'We Don't Want to be Converted by Russia,' Senator Warns

The senator who got human-rights sanctions passed on Russia after the in-custody death of corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky warned today that "we don't want to be converted by Russia" as President-elect Trump signals new outreach efforts with the Kremlin.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week that Trump needs to "take seriously the assessments from our intelligence community and security professionals regarding Russia’s actions."

"I implore the Trump administration to see Russia for what it is — a global bully and adversary," the senator wrote. "And I encourage the incoming national security leadership to understand who our real friends and true allies are, and that they count on us to provide leadership against Moscow’s aggression."

"...We need to send a resolute message that Russia’s domestic tyranny and international belligerence have consequences. And we must make abundantly clear that there is a cost to attacking the United States, whether accomplished by a MiG or a mouse. We should consider expanded sectoral sanctions and targeted sanctions on individuals found to be complicit in crimes and atrocities, across a range of options to include the Russian energy sector and prohibiting U.S. participation in the purchase of Russian debt bonds."

Cardin emphasized on CNN this morning: "Russia's not our friend. They're not our partner. We ignore them at our own peril."

"Ask the people of Ukraine whether they can trust Russia's statements now that Russia is occupying part of Ukraine. Ask the people of Moldova, or Georgia, where we've seen Russia's aggression take over part of the sovereignty of that country. Ask our allies in the Baltic how they feel about Russia's activities and whether they fear their own borders being compromised," Cardin said. "In the United States, we may not have been attacked by a Mig but we were attacked by a mouse. Russia has attacked America through cyber. We've got to respond to that."

"So, sure, we want to get along with all countries. But right now, Russia is an aggressor. It's a bully. If we start to say what they're doing is okay, we're going to find that their activities will be even more aggressive."

Asked whether Trump can make an argument that President Obama screwed up the reset and a new path forward is needed in U.S.-Russia relations, the senator stressed that "Russia's a corrupt regime."