McCain to Trump: Stop cozying up to Russia

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Sen. John McCain on Tuesday issued a strongly worded statement warning President-elect Donald Trump not to trust overtures of peace from the Kremlin and to be cautious of supposed attempts to strengthen U.S.-Russian ties.

“With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” McCain said. “We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections.”

Related: Putin through the years

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. The Defenders of the Fatherland Day, celebrated in Russia on Feb. 23, honors the nation’s military and is a nationwide holiday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, gestures during his talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and French President Francois Hollande, right, in Moscow, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. In a top-level diplomatic dash, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Moscow on Friday to seek a cease-fire and then a lasting peace for war-wracked eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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The Arizona Republican, once a presidential hopeful himself and now chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, issued the statement after news that Trump and Putin had spoken by telephone and agreed to bolster the relationship between their countries.

The statement comes as Russia has reportedly stepped up airstrikes in Syria as part of what appears to be a renewed offensive to retake the city of Aleppo. Following Moscow’s continued deployments of military might to the region, McCain said the warming of relations must stop.

McCain also blasted President Barack Obama for his failed “reset” policy carried out by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s unsuccessful Democratic opponent in the presidential race. He said it cleared the way for Russia’s annexation of Crimea – which the U.S. considers illegal – and ongoing military operations it supports in eastern Ukraine, as well as its continued intervention in the Middle East in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Related: McCain through the years

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“At the very least, the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people,” McCain said. “That is an unacceptable price for a great nation. When America has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again.”

The Pentagon has decried Russia’s involvement in Syria as “unhelpful” since it first deployed troops there last year. Its aircraft carrier the Adm. Kuznetsov arrived off the Syrian coast last week to supplement the roughly 24 strike aircraft Russia already has at an air base it built in Latakia last year. Moscow has claimed it will use the carrier and its aircraft and weapons on board to begin an intensification of its assault.

A Defense Department spokesman on Tuesday claimed the deployment is, at this point, merely showing off.

“There is nothing kinetically that they can achieve or want to achieve they can’t already do with the forces that are already there,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said, citing the Kuznetsov, as well as cruise missiles launched from ships and long-range bombers flown from Russia. “These are done for show.”

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