John McCain Says Donald Trump Is Helping Putin 'Shatter' NATO Alliance With Montenegro Comments

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona lashed out at President Donald Trump on Wednesday for Trump's recent comments about NATO's collective defense obligations.

In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday evening, in response to a question by host Tucker Carlson, Trump echoed Carlson's concerns about whether the U.S. should defend a small country like Montenegro if it were to come under attack. McCain, who is known to be hawkish on Russia, accused Trump of toeing the Kremlin line.  

“The people of #Montenegro boldly withstood pressure from #Putin’s Russia to embrace democracy. The Senate voted 97-2 supporting its accession to #NATO. By attacking Montenegro & questioning our obligations under NATO, the President is playing right into Putin’s hand,” McCain tweeted on Wednesday, the day after Trump’s interview.

NATO was formed shortly after World War II to counter Soviet aggression, and the Russian government that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union has never trusted the alliance. Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, a year after an alleged Russian election-day plot to assassinate Montenegro's prime minister to keep the country from joining the alliance.

The investigation into the alleged coup is still ongoing, and some analysts have cast doubt on the extent of Russian interference in the country. But Russia has succeeded in derailing the NATO membership of its neighbors Ukraine and Georgia by stirring up conflict and occupying parts of those countries.

Because NATO guarantees collective defense under Article 5, it is reluctant to admit new members that are already involved in a conflict. But the alliance has condemned Russia’s interference in the internal affairs of its neighbors.

“For more than two decades, NATO has strived to build a partnership with Russia, developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Cooperation has been suspended in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which the Allies condemn in the strongest terms,” a statement from NATO read. “Political and military channels of communication remain open. NATO remains concerned by Russia’s continued destabilizing pattern of military activities and aggressive rhetoric, which goes well beyond Ukraine.”

Republican lawmakers are traditionally tough on Russia, and McCain has emerged as one of the staunchest defenders of countries like Ukraine and Georgia. McCain visited pro-Western protesters in Kiev when they succeeded in ousting a pro-Russian government, and he has consistently called on Trump to send Ukraine lethal arms to fight against pro-Russian separatists in the country.

Last year, McCain went on a tour of Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic States—all of which fear Russian aggression—and he visited the border of South Ossetia, a Russian-backed breakaway region that declared independence from Georgia in 2008. The Arizona senator has taken numerous trips to Tbilisi over the years and advocated for the country's defense against Russian aggression and influence.

Conversely, Trump has maintained an unusually friendly stance toward Russia. On Monday, he met with Putin for a private two-hour meeting, and then appeared with the Russian leader at a joint press conference where he cast doubt on whether the Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and then later tried to back track on what he actually meant to say.

Despite Trump's stance, the U.S. has upheld sanctions against Russia and sent more troops to the NATO countries bordering Russia, such as Poland and Norway.