TBILISI/KIEV - The United States could only improve its relations with Russia by taking a tough stance with President Putin, calling for stronger sanctions against Moscow, Republican Senator John McCain told press in Tbilisi on January 1.
On a tour of the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia, McCain and other U.S. senators assured the former Soviet-dominated countries that the United States would support them, despite President-elect Donald Trump's praise of Putin and expressions of doubts about NATO.
"I believe that we must continue to improve our relations and to understand that Vladimir Putin - unless we stand up to him - will continue his aggression and we must stand up to Vladimir Putin," McCain said in Tbilisi.
Earlier, in Kiev, McCain vowed continued U.S. support to Ukraine. "I send the message from the American people - we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together," McCain was quoted as saying by Ukrainian President Poroshenko's press service.
"In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin - you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom," McCain said.
Reinforcing the line that the U.S. Congress could oppose any move by Trump to take a softer line on Russia, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, traveling with McCain and others, said it was time "to push back against Putin, to be a better friend to our allies here including Georgia."
"So 2017 is a year of offense and we're going to tell our colleagues what's at stake if we don't push back," Graham said.