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U.S. Senators Vow No 'Faustian Bargain' With Russia, Pledge To Target Putin 'Harder'

  • RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

KYIV -- Senator John McCain says that the United States will not strike a "Faustian bargain" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid speculation that President-elect Donald Trump could scrap sanctions in a bid to improve ties.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in Kyiv on December 30 along with two other U.S. senators, McCain (Republican-Arizona) said any possible deal with Putin "would interfere with and undermine the freedom and democracies that exist today."

The U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on Moscow shortly after Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and for its ongoing support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said Congress would pursue in 2017 more sanctions against Russia, targeting the energy and banking sectors, as well as "Putin and his inner circle."

"We're going to do two things: We're going after Putin harder with tougher sanctions and we're going to be more helpful to our friends, like here in Ukraine," Graham said.

McCain, Graham, and Amy Klobuchar (Democrat-Minnesota) said there is strong support in Congress to provide Ukraine with "lethal defensive weapons" to help Kyiv in its fight against Russia-backed separatists in the east.

WATCH: McCain, Klobuchar, and Graham talk about the hacking scandal and the possibility of more U.S. sanctions against Russia

The senators faulted Moscow for failing to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk accords -- a February 2015 agreement aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where more than 9,750 people have died since April 2014.

"How can you have a free and fair election or debate about the power-sharing with eastern Ukraine when you have 700 Russian tanks [in eastern Ukraine]?" Graham said.

Asked whether Trump may recognize Crimea as part of Russia, Graham said Congress would block any such move.

"The president alone can't do this. And the reason the Congress will reject such a notion is because it undermines the rule of law," Graham explained.

McCain also called for tougher action against Moscow for its alleged involvement in hacks into Democratic Party e-mails before the November 8 U.S. presidential election.

"We can make them a lot tougher, ranging from travel to identifying individuals who have been involved in this hacking and specific organizations. There are a lot more stringent measures we should take," McCain said. "After all, it was an attack on the United States of America and an attack on the fundamentals of our democracy. If you destroy the elections, then you destroy democracy."

U.S. President Barack Obama on December 29 ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over what the administration says was their involvement in the hacking.

Putin said on December 30 that Moscow would not respond in kind and would not expel any Americans from Russia, accusing the U.S. administration of "irresponsible 'kitchen' diplomacy."

On December 30, Trump praised Putin on Twitter for holding off on retaliatory actions, calling him "very smart."

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyberattacks. But it is unclear whether he will seek to roll back Obama's actions.

"If you have a hard time figuring out who is behind this, that doesn't speak well of you," Graham said. "The Russians are doing it all over the world."

Klobuchar said it wasn't only the United States that was being targeted by Russian cyberattacks.

"We have learned on this trip visiting Estonia and Lithuania and hearing about these cyberattacks in Ukraine -- it has happened for years and years and years. And it's a technique that can be used in the French elections or the German elections," Klobuchar said, referring to two key upcoming elections in Europe in 2017.

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