Speaking to Maria-Ann Rohemäe, ERR's incoming Washington correspondent, the senator noted that he was very pleased with the appointment of retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as future Secretary of Defense. "I’m very happy about Gen. Mattis, the president’s selection for Secretary of Defense," said McCain. "He’s a great man who understands this area of the world very well."
Asked whether he would support Tillerson after the Senate hearing, McCain said that Tillerson would be asked about what his relationship was with Russian President Putin when the latter was "destroying Chechnya," and what his relationship with Putin and "some of his cronies" was which had made a great deal of money for Russian businessmen. Most importantly, the senator noted, they would ask what Tillerson's attitude and policy toward Putin would be in the case of continued Russian aggression.
He also stated, however, that he did not believe Tillerson's appointment to be a threat to the Baltic states. "The President-elect said that we need to build up our military; the President-elect said we need to spend more money on defense," McCain recounted. "He has recently said that he supports NATO, and so we have to see, but I know the commitment of the United States Congress to this country and to NATO is strong and will never waiver."
He added that there are people around Trump who understand that NATO is the most successful alliance in history — "the alliance that won the Cold War." They would help him understand the importance of NATO, and the choice of Mattis as defense secretary was a sign of that, McCain remarked.
Responding to a comment by Rohemäe that the president's cabinet is quite polarized when one person in it befriends Putin and others see Moscow as a threat, the U.S. senator responded confirming that Congress had no illusions about the Russian president.
"I think every credible member of Congress, and the United States Senate, that I know views Vladimir Putin as a threat — views Vladimir Putin for what he is: a thug and a bully and a KGB agent," McCain said. "I'm proud to have been sanctioned by Vladimir Putin. I don't think there's anything but unanimity [regarding him] in the Senate of the United States."