DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And this morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprising announcement. After President Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election, Putin said he wouldn't do anything - for now.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In fact, he invited American diplomats and their families over to the Kremlin for the holidays. We're talking throughout the morning about Putin's move and what it could mean for his relationship with the new American president, Donald Trump. But let's focus now on the actions taken yesterday by the Obama administration.
GREENE: In addition to those 35 Russian diplomats being expelled, President Obama ordered two Russian compounds in the U.S. to be closed, and he sanctioned several Russian government agencies and officials, all this in response to hacking allegations that Russia denies.
MARTIN: One of the strongest voices calling for these sanctions against Russia is that of Senator Amy Klobuchar. This week, the Democrat from Minnesota has been traveling with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain throughout Eastern Europe. They've been meeting with key NATO allies, countries that Klobuchar says are very familiar with Russia's intimidation and aggression.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: What you learn when you're here is that this isn't just about America. And if we just let them roll us and do nothing in response to an attack on our election system, an attempt to influence our elections which was held out by 17 of our intelligence agencies as true, and they're just going to be empowered to do it again. And maybe they'll do it in Germany, maybe they'll do it in France, that they're going to do it again and that's why the president's actions are important.
MARTIN: What do you want to achieve with these sanctions?
KLOBUCHAR: We want Russia to stop this attack on democracies across the world. They see this as a way to expand their influence, and it is illegal and it is wrong. And the only way we get to have this stopped is by putting truth to power. And by getting the information out there which is why we're calling for hearings in Congress, why we're trying to declassify information as much as possible so our own public will understand what's happening, and then why we will also be working on increased economic sanctions out of the Congress beyond what the president has announced.
MARTIN: Sanctions don't always work, as you know, and the U.S. has employed them as a punitive measure against Cuba or North Korea. They didn't achieve what they were supposed to. Are you confident they will work now?
KLOBUCHAR: It has to be a worldwide effort. They will work if we stand united with the European Union, we stand united with the Baltic states, and that we're just not off going alone. What they are hoping for...
MARTIN: Do you need China's support?
KLOBUCHAR: I think the impact of having all countries support it would be the best, but let's face it, having Europe and America stand together will make a difference.
MARTIN: Donald Trump has tapped Rex Tillerson as his pick for secretary of state. He's someone with strong business ties in Russia and connections with Vladimir Putin. Could that be beneficial in trying to curb Russian aggression in the region?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I have a lot of concerns over the fact that the secretary of state nominee has praised Putin, has actually called for the lessening or elimination of sanctions, something that we think is really important for these Baltic countries and for America standing up against Russian aggression. So these are things that are going to be explored in these hearings at length. I find solace in the fact that there are some Republicans like Senator McCain and Senator Graham who are withholding judgment on the nominee because they want to get to the bottom of this.
MARTIN: What kinds of conversations have you been having with Eastern European leaders? Because these sanctions are coming at this already tense time between the U.S. and Russia. Do the sanctions make life more difficult for them as they're on the Russian border?
KLOBUCHAR: That's what's so incredible about these countries. And the sanctions are difficult for them, but yet they have been able to survive. And they believe so strongly in a united Europe and so strongly in NATO, that's their protection. They are too small of a country to go it alone, and they get that. They are concerned, yes, about some of the statements that have been made like Newt Gingrich saying that Estonia was nothing more than a suburb of St. Petersburg. Yeah, that concerned them.
At the same time, they know that Congress has stood with them, that there's bipartisan support, and that's why we came together. They also believe Senator McCain when he has said that he has directly spoken to the president-elect, and that he has said that he will continue to support NATO. So our mission here is to stand tall with these countries, to answer their questions about what was a very volatile election in the U.S., and to tell them that we will have a smooth transition of power, and that there is strong bipartisan support in the Congress for going after the cyberattacks and for standing true to their independence.
MARTIN: Is there a chance that this just exacerbates an already fraught relationship between two nuclear powers?
KLOBUCHAR: You know, we have two choices here. We can just pretend this didn't happen to us, when the best intelligence agencies of the world has is telling us that it has happened, or we can decide to make the world know that we are willing to stand up against this kind of attack. This is the new-fangled way to undermine a country's democracy, and potentially look at how you undermine their economic system. And if we let this happen to us, it's going to start happening to other countries.
And as you sit here on the frontline of these Baltic states like we are today, for us to just pretend it's not happening would be not just an insult to them, but really an insult to democracies the world over. And that's why I think it's so important that the president has taken these actions.
MARTIN: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, thank you so much.
KLOBUCHAR: All right, thank you.
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