The Cable

McCain Doubles Down on Russia Position, ISIS Claims Credit for Istanbul Attack: The Weekend Behind, the Week Ahead

On Eastern Europe, some senators signal they're standing their ground. Plus more to watch in the coming days.


On the ever-contentious issue of Russia and its aggression in Eastern Europe, the one-two Senate punch that is Republican hawks Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have staked out their ground and signaled last weekend they’re prepared to stand firm on it.

McCain and Graham, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), spent New Year’s Eve in Ukraine with the country’s marines at a forward combat outpost. They were joined by Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

McCain tweeted, “we stand w/ them in their fight against #Putin’s aggression.” The three Americans then journeyed to Georgia, where McCain delivered a gift “to a man displaced by #Russia’s aggression against #Georgia.” The unidentified local man was on the other side of the fence that separates unoccupied Georgia from South Ossetia, which, like Abkhazia, is recognized as autonomous — and backed — by Russia. Less provocatively, the three senators also spoke at a technology center.

The trip was likely meant not only to signal that American support of Ukraine and Georgia specifically, and Eastern Europe more broadly, will continue. It also served as a warning to President-elect Donald Trump that congressional condemnation of Russia should be expected to continue. That could happen, perhaps, in the confirmation hearing for Trump’s pick for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, an acquaintance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Or it could come when Trump tries to lift U.S. sanctions against Russia. It could also happen if Trump tries to cut funding to Ukraine; indeed, and unrelatedly, the U.S. Agency for International Development ended funding for a customs reform project in Odessa.

Earlier, Trump tweeted the praises of Putin’s intelligence; the Russian president responded to the latest round of sanctions by saying he looked forward to working with the incoming administration.

The incoming American president also appeared to walk back on his weekend pledge to share information that might suggest Russia was not behind the hacking into, and leaking of, Democratic emails during the 2016 American presidential election. On Monday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN that the president-elect would not reveal anything privileged or classified — that he would not, in other words, make public this information he possesses – despite U.S. intelligence to the contrary- that presumably exonerates Russia.

Trump, meanwhile, continued tweeting to remind Americans that he won the Nov. 8 election despite pundits predicting he would lose.  He will be sworn in 10 days after outgoing President Barack Obama will deliver a final presidential address in Chicago on Jan. 10.

One issue central to Trump’s campaign that is very much still in the news: ISIS, which claimed credit for an attack the New Year’s Eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39. Authorities have not yet found the killer. The United States and Turkey have both condemned the attack. How both governments will deal with its aftermath remains to be seen.

Photo credit: MYKOLA LAZARENKO/AFP/Getty Images

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