Marco Rubio: Putin is a 'gangster' and a 'thug' — and here's how I'd take him on

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is set to give a speech Friday where he'll present his plans to aggressively confront Russia should he win the 2016 presidential race.

According to excerpts released by his campaign, Rubio will vow to issue visa bans and asset freezes against Russian officials, distribute military hardware to boost Ukraine's fight against Russian-backed separatists, and issue a new round of sanctions.

"We are barreling toward a second Cold War, and strong American leadership is the only force capable of ensuring that peace and security once again prevail," Rubio will say.

"The more our current president fails the test of leadership against Putin, the more important it becomes for our next president to pass it. I will pass this test. Over the last five years, I have consistently spoken out on the need to contain Russian aggression, even when it wasn't popular."

In an "60 Minutes" interview that aired last Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked to react to Rubio's accusation that he's governed as a "gangster."

"How can I be a gangster if I worked for the KGB?" Putin responded, according to CBS' translation. "Come on. That does not correspond to reality."

Rubio is set to double down on that Putin rhetoric in his Friday speech.

"Under my administration, there will be no pleading for meetings with Vladimir Putin. He will be treated as the gangster and thug that he is. And yes, I stand by that phrasing," Rubio says in his prepared remarks.

Putin has repeatedly US foreign policy goals in recent years. Most recently, Russia launched an airstrike campaign in Syria against enemies of President Bashar al-Assad's regime — and evidence suggests that they've targeted US-backed rebel forces more than fighters from the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS or ISIL).

"The significance of Russia's recent military activity in Syria cannot be downplayed," Rubio will say. "It is no less noteworthy as a power play than the invasion of Ukraine."

Rubio's upcoming speech fits into his overall campaign-trail strategy of stressing his foreign-policy credentials. Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, often says that the first responsibility of a president is national security and readily contrasts his foreign-policy knowledge with his rivals.

View the full Rubio speech excerpts below:

We are barreling toward a Second Cold War, and strong American leadership is the only force capable of ensuring that peace and security once again prevail.

The more our current president fails the test of leadership against Putin, the more important it becomes for our next president to pass it. I will pass this test.

Over the last five years, I have consistently spoken out on the need to contain Russian aggression, even when it wasn't popular. I have highlighted the dangers of the Obama/Clinton "reset" with Russia. And in 2014, I urged a rapid and forceful response to Putin's annexation of Crimea.

As soon as I take office, I will move quickly to increase pressure on Moscow. I will impose a new round of sanctions on The Kremlin's senior leadership and other Russian entities, including Gazprom, and will work with Europe to exclude Russia from the SWIFT interbank payment system.

I will immediately provide Ukraine with lethal military assistance and increased intelligence sharing to ensure that Putin's violation of Ukraine's sovereignty comes at a price.

I will impose visa bans and asset freezes against high-level Russian officials, and move to isolate Russia diplomatically by ceasing efforts to engage Moscow on issues not essential to resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

Under my administration, there will be no pleading for meetings with Vladimir Putin. He will be treated as the gangster and thug that he is. And yes, I stand by that phrasing.

...

The significance of Russia's recent military activity in Syria cannot be downplayed. It is no less noteworthy as a power play than the invasion of Ukraine.

He is using military power to prop up Bashar al-Assad, a vicious dictator who is intentionally slaughtering the Syrian people and helping prolong ISIL's terror in an attempt to retain power.

And let's be clear about something: No matter what Putin says, he is not involved in Syria out of an altruistic desire to defeat ISIL. The first airstrikes Russia conducted were in areas where ISIL is not present. They are targeting other moderate opponents of the Assad regime.

Putin is involved for the purpose of keeping Assad, or someone like Assad, in power; keeping Syria as a client-state for Russia; and distracting from his actions in Ukraine.

...

Even as we must confront Russia in Europe and the Middle East, we need to increase our support to the Russian people. It is important to note that our concerns with Russia are not with them – for it is they who suffer most from Putin's lies, thievery and repression. Unlike this President, I will speak frankly about who Vladimir Putin is and what his regime represents.

I will increase our efforts to counter Russian propaganda so that the Russian people have access to accurate information. And I will use all the tools at my disposal to sanction those Russian officials involved in human rights abuses, including those who target members of the Russian opposition and kill true Russian patriots like Boris Nemtsov.

As the Obama/Clinton record has shown, the longer we wait to stand strong against Putin's Russia, the higher the price of our inaction will be.

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SEE ALSO: 'How can I be a gangster if I worked for the KGB?'

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