US soldiers stand on May 26, 2010 in front of a Patriot missile battery at an army base in the northern Polish town of Morag. Polish and US officials unveiled on May 26 the first battery of US surface-to-air Patriot-type missiles to be stationed on Polish soil, at the base just 60 kms (40 miles) from the Russian border. Russia criticized the United States' deployment of Patriot missiles in Poland, saying the move threatened to derail a thaw in ties with Warsaw as the two nations seek to put an end to years of mistrust. AFP PHOTO / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images) (WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Two influential Senate Republicans are urging the White House to flex America’s muscles in Russia’s backyard in the wake of Moscow’s decision to harbor NSA surveillance leaker Edward Snowden.
GOP Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, in a Thursday statement, applauded President Barack Obama for on Wednesday canceling a planned one-on-one summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin ahead of the G-20 summit.
The Obama administration and US lawmakers from both parties have called for a list of actions from the White House after Putin’s government decided to offer temporary asylum to Snowden, the disenchanted former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who leaked information about several top-secret NSA anti-terrorism surveillance programs.
“We have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a US-Russia summit in early September,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” Carney said.
McCain and Graham, who Obama recently asked to travel to Egypt, where this week they huddled with the various groups vying for control of that key Arab nation after the military ousted Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Mohammed Morsi.
“We obviously agree with President Obama’s decision to cancel his planned meeting with President Putin in Moscow in the wake of the Russian government granting asylum to Edward Snowden,” McCain and Graham said in a joint statement.
That’s not enough, said the senators, who served up a typically muscular list of proposed steps.
“But now we must move beyond symbolic acts and take the steps necessary to establish a more realistic approach to our relations with Russia,” McCain and Graham said. “That means demonstrating to the Russian government that there will be consequences for its continued actions that undermine American national interests.”
The steps envisioned by two-thirds of the Senate’s hawkish “Three Amigos” faction include moving forward with “completion of all phases of our missile defense programs in Europe.”
For years, the Obama administration, as part of its multi-pronged effort to re-set relations with Moscow, has attempted to work with Russian officials on missile defense plans. Republicans say those efforts largely failed, and point to the Snowden flap, which some say Putin is using to embarrass America.
What’s more, McCain and Graham are urging Obama to set in motion a new expansion of NATO, the post-World War II alliance establish to guard Europe against Russian aggression.
In recent years, former members of the Warsaw Pact — Russia’s answer to NATO, composed almost entirely of its satellite states — have broken free of Moscow and joined the Western group.
Since 1999, Eastern European nations on that list include Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia.
Now, McCain and Graham — who both met for two hours with Obama on national security matters — say the president should “move expeditiously on another round of NATO expansion, including the Republic of Georgia.”
Such a move likely would rile Putin.
Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August 2008 over South Ossetia, a separatist Georgian province. While Russia and several other nations followed the 2008 conflict by recognizing South Ossetia’s independence claims, Georgian officials did not. Instead, Tbilisi considers the region as occupied by Russian military forces.