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Nikki Haley breaks from Trump on Russia

The Trump cabinet appears to be more suspicious of Russia than the president-elect.

UN Ambassador-designate Gov. Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
UN Ambassador-designate Gov. Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The next administration’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) used her testimony before the Senate foreign relations committee Wednesday to strongly condemn Russian actions in Aleppo and Crimea. She also said she opposes lifting economic sanctions against Russia until the country exhibits a “strong change,” in an apparent break with President-elect Donald Trump.

Foreign relations committee member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) asked Haley about sanctions on Russia and Russian transgressions in Syria.

Menendez: Forgetting about what may happen tomorrow, what is your view on sanctions as it relates to Russia?

Haley: I certainly believe they should be preserved and certainly not lifted unless we have seen a strong change from the Russian government.

Menendez: Do you believe that Russia committed war crimes when it inordinately bombed civilians and hospitals in Aleppo?

Haley: Yes, I do.

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Haley’s stance is a clear shift from those of Trump, who has shown a severe reluctance to criticize the Kremlin, and his Secretary of State pick, Rex Tillerson, who refused to label Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal during his own hearing. Tillerson’s stance — or lack of one — on Putin partially explains why he has attracted the most GOP opposition of any Trump nominee.

Haley is not the first appointee to break with the incoming administration’s warmness toward Russia.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s selection for Secretary of Defense, said Russia is the primary threat to the United States during his confirmation hearing last week. Trump’s pick for CIA Director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), also espoused a divergent opinion from his potential new boss when he said, Russia “reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nothing to aid in the defeat of ISIS.”

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Whereas Trump showed skepticism over Russia’s interference in the 2016 election up until very recently, Pompeo didn’t mince words in his hearing. “It’s pretty clear about what took place here about Russia involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy,” he said.

One of the initial concerns about Haley’s appointment was her noted lack of foreign policy experience. Haley came out swinging at the United Nations during her testimony, highlighting what she and some other Republicans perceive as the institution’s anti-Israel bias.

Last month, the U.S. abstained from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that called for an end to the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank.