Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson opened his confirmation hearings to become President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state by saying the United States must meet force with force when dealing with Russia, which he said “poses a danger.”
Tillerson says he would have sent defensive weapons to Ukraine and provided air support for Ukrainian forces.
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) January 11, 2017
Relations with Russia were among the thorny issues expected to dominate the hearings for Tillerson, who as the head of the energy giant has had multiple business dealings with Russia and developed a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We must also be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia,” Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests.”
“Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests,” he said. “It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia.”
Tillerson, during grilling by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered a hard-line analysis of Russia’s recent territorial expansions.
Tillerson said Russia’s action to control part of Crimea “was a taking of territory that was not theirs.”
Tillerson said he was “caught by surprise” by the step, and noted the U.S. sanctions that followed it — which he criticized — cost Exxon hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tillerson said the United States should have responded differently to Russian incursions against Ukraine, saying he would have urged Ukraine to send all of its troops to its Russian border and then followed that up with defensive weapons and air surveillance provided by the United States and its NATO allies.
“That is the type of response that Russia expects,” he said. “If Russia acts with force … they require a proportional show of force to indicate to Russia that there will be no more taking of territory.”
Tillerson said the United States needs “open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambition” to develop its response.
Tillerson also told Rubio it’s “a fair assumption” that Putin directed efforts by Russian hackers to influence the outcome of the recent presidential election.
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