John McCain on Russia: No More Reset Buttons

And other actions the United States needs to take in the Ukraine crisis, according to the senator after his trip to Kiev.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shakes hands with a protester during a mass opposition rally at Independence Square during his first visit to Kiev since the crisis, in December.
National Journal
Marina Koren
March 16, 2014, 6:44 a.m.

Fresh off a vis­it to Ukraine, Sen. John Mc­Cain laid out his pro­posed plan for U.S. ac­tion against Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine on Sunday.

The Re­pub­lic­an from Ari­zona led a bi­par­tis­an del­eg­a­tion of sen­at­ors to Kiev over the week­end to com­mu­nic­ate U.S. sup­port for the new gov­ern­ment. Right now, as cit­izens of Crimea cast their votes in a ref­er­en­dum to be­come part of Rus­sia, Mc­Cain says he’s not sure what could stop Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin from an­nex­ing the ter­rit­ory. But the U.S. isn’t out of op­tions just yet.

“The United States of Amer­ica, first of all, has to have a fun­da­ment­al re­as­sess­ment of our re­la­tion­ship with Vladi­mir Putin,” Mc­Cain told Candy Crow­ley on CNN’s State of the Uni­on Sunday morn­ing. “No more re­set but­tons, no more ‘tell Vladi­mir I’ll be more flex­ible.’ Treat him for what he is.” The sen­at­or was re­fer­ring to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hopes of re­set­ting tense U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions, and Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­marks dur­ing mis­sile talks in 2012 to former Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Dmitry Med­ve­dev that Obama would have more flex­ib­il­ity “after my elec­tion.”

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Mc­Cain con­tin­ued: “That does not mean re­igni­tion of the Cold War, but it does mean treat­ing him in the way that we un­der­stand an in­di­vidu­al who be­lieves in restor­ing the old Rus­si­an em­pire.”

Here’s what the sen­at­or thinks the U.S. should do next:

  • Im­pose eco­nom­ic sanc­tions where it would hurt most. “Rus­sia is a gas sta­tion mas­quer­ad­ing as a coun­try,” he said. “It is a na­tion that’s really only de­pend­ent upon oil and gas for their eco­nomy.”
  • Provide a long-term mil­it­ary as­sist­ance plan, which could in­clude sup­ply­ing the Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment with weapons, am­muni­tion, and in­tel­li­gence sup­port. “No boots on the ground,” Mc­Cain said, though he did sug­gest de­liv­er­ing hu­man­it­ari­an aid to the re­gion us­ing U.S. mil­it­ary air­craft.
  • Re­sume a Bush-era Pentagon plan to build a the mis­sile-de­fense sys­tem in Po­land and the Czech Re­pub­lic that Obama can­celed in 2009. Back then, the pro­pos­al was met with hos­til­ity from Rus­sia.
  • Put Mol­dova, a na­tion that re­mains well un­der Rus­sia’s “sphere of in­flu­ence,” on a path to­ward NATO mem­ber­ship. In 2008, when Ukraine began talks to join the mil­it­ary al­li­ance, Rus­sia res­isted the east­ward ex­pan­sion of West­ern in­flu­ence.
  • In the fu­ture, provide Ukraine and European coun­tries with nat­ur­al gas, crude oil, and oth­er en­ergy sup­plies to ease those na­tions’ de­pend­ence on Rus­sia. “We are an abund­ant en­ergy ex­port­er,” Mc­Cain said. “We should be us­ing that — it is a long-term strategy we should be fig­ur­ing out right now.”
  • Make “a long-term com­mit­ment to the free­dom and demo­cracy and the as­sist­ance we can provide Ukraine, in­clud­ing, over time, re­gain­ing Crimea.”

Mc­Cain has been one of the most vo­cal crit­ics of Obama’s hand­ling of the Ukraine crisis. His im­pas­sioned speech on the Sen­ate floor Thursday, the vis­it with new Ukrain­i­an lead­er­ship, and fre­quent me­dia ap­pear­ances are the latest ex­amples of the sen­at­or’s “back-seat pres­id­ent­ing” of the glob­al crisis.

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