Republicans Working for Putin? John McCain Claims Rand Paul Is Russian Tool over NATO Spending Debate

Sen. Rand Paul arrives as President Donald Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington, Feb. 2, 2017. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Sen. John McCain accused Sen. Rand Paul Wednesday of serving the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin after Sen. Paul opposed a Senate consent request for Montenegro to join NATO.

Paul, an avowed libertarian, has often pushed for non-interventionist foreign policy goals and has voiced his opposition to the U.S.' leading position in NATO, of which Washington has been by far the biggest financial supporter. But McCain told lawmakers that acceding to Paul's objection to Balkan nation Montenegro joining the international military alliance would be to serve Moscow's interests. NATO has undergone a massive military escalation in the past year to counter what its members describe as Russian aggression after the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

"You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin...trying to dismember this small country which has already been the subject of an attempted coup," McCain said, without initially mentioning Paul by name, according to CBS News.

The charge apparently prompted Paul to leave the room, further provoking McCain, who went on to "note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale." McCain blasted Paul for not getting on board with what he said were about 98 of his colleagues who reportedly supported Montenegro's NATO membership bid. He then accused Paul of directly working for Putin.

"He has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians," McCain said. "So, I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin."

Paul responded Wednesday with a statement criticizing the U.S. military and economic burdens in fighting and trying to defend foreign nations. He referred to U.S. active combat operations in four Middle Eastern countries and the heavy costs of maintaining U.S. contributions to NATO.

"Currently, the United States has troops in dozens of countries and is actively fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen (with the occasional drone strike in Pakistan)," the statement read, according to The Hill. "In addition, the United States is pledged to defend 28 countries in NATO. It is unwise to expand the monetary and military obligations of the United States given the burden of our $20 trillion debt."

Montenegro has sought NATO's protection since declaring independence from Serbia in 2006. NATO unanimously decided in December 2015 to admit the country and 22 out of 28 of NATO's members have already ratified Montenegro's entry. The U.S. has yet to accept the decision and the Senate's vote was an attempt to compel President Donald Trump's administration to take action.

Montenegro's former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic appealed Tuesday to the EU over Russia's "destructive" influence in the region. Montenegrin authorities have accused Russia of sponsoring an alleged unsuccessful coup and attempt to assassinate Djukanovic in October. Russia has denied the charges.