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Thursday, September 19, 2013

McCain Slams Putin In Opinion Piece For Pravda

U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., listens during a town hall meeting dominated by discussion of Syria, Sept. 5, 2013, in Phoenix. (Ralph Freso/AP)

U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., listens during a town hall meeting dominated by discussion of Syria, Sept. 5, 2013, in Phoenix. (Ralph Freso/AP)

Republican Sen. John McCain insisted he is “more pro-Russian” than President Vladimir Putin, accusing Putin of corruption, repression and self-serving rule in an opinion piece for Pravda newspaper answering the Russian leader’s broadside last week in The New York Times.

“I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today,” McCain wrote. “I make that claim because I respect your dignity and your right to self-determination.”

“President Putin doesn’t believe in these values because he doesn’t believe in you,” McCain wrote. “He doesn’t believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn’t believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you,” McCain wrote.

In an op-ed headlined “Russians deserve better than Putin,” McCain singled out Putin and his associates for punishing dissent, specifically the death in prison of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The Russian presidential human rights council found in 2011 that Magnitsky, who had accused Russian officials of colluding with organized criminals, had been beaten and denied medical treatment.

McCain also criticized Putin for siding with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the 2{-year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

The senator submitted the editorial to Pravda, which posted it online Thursday in English and in Russian.

McCain assailed Putin and his associates for writing laws that codify bigotry, specifically legislation on sexual orientation. A new Russian law imposes fines and up to 15 days in prison for people accused of spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors.

On Syria, McCain said Putin is siding with a tyrant.

“He is not enhancing Russia’s global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world,” the Arizona senator said.

McCain also criticized the imprisonment of the punk rock band Pussy Riot. The three women were convicted of hooliganism after staging an anti-Putin protest inside a Russian Orthodox Church.

The article by McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, comes just days after the U.S. and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement that calls for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons program within a week and its complete eradication by mid-2014. Diplomatic wrangling continues, however.

In his own op-ed last week, Putin blamed opposition forces for the latest deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and argued President Barack Obama’s remarks about America were self-serving. Putin also wrote in the Times that it was dangerous for America to think of itself as exceptional, a reference to comments Obama had made.

McCain was not the first U.S. lawmaker to respond to Putin. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., wrote in a piece for the Moscow Times about the suppression of the Russian people and the disregard for basic human rights.


  • Famil Ismailov, news editor for the BBC World Service in Russia. He tweets @f_ismailov.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, gun control advocates are calling for action after this week's mass shooting at Washington's Navy Yard, but is the approach they're taking bound to fail?

YOUNG: But first, foreign policy by op-ed. Last week, after The New York Times printed an opinion piece from Russian President Vladimir Putin condemning any U.S. strikes against Syria's chemical weapons capability, Sen. John McCain said there was no way Pravda would run an op-ed from him.

Well, today, they did. And in it, McCain tells Russians their president and his government "don't respect your dignity. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption." And that was just the beginning.

A spokesperson for Vladimir Putin says he will not respond to the piece. The BBC's Famil Ismailov is in Russia. Famil, are Russians responding to the piece?

FAMIL ISMAILOV: Well, I mean, first of all if they were able to read it at all because there are two Pravdas, and sorry for the pun - because the word pravda in Russian means truth - there are two truths here. One Pravda is the newspaper that started in 1912 by Vladimir Lenin, and at the moment it is a print periodical for the Russian Communist Party.

And the other one is the online resource. It's the online site, which is called And I'm afraid Mr. McCain's presenters mixed up the two of them.

YOUNG: So you said a couple things here. First of all, we understand that the Pravda newspaper is not the same as the online version that McCain published in. The Pravda newspaper also isn't the same newspaper that some people think of it as traditionally. But nevertheless, he's not published there, he's published online. Who is that's reading this online?

ISMAILOV: So, I mean, you have to see the online readers are mostly younger generation. Some of them say - agree with Mr. McCain, and they say he is quite right by criticizing the Russian government. Other people would say that, you know, mostly they consider him to be trying to, you know, to teach Russians how to do politics. And these would be mostly older generation.

And they would say, and they actually said it to our reporters, that Mr. McCain shouldn't really teach Russian government what to do in terms of politics.

YOUNG: But what are Russian officials saying maybe even behind the scenes because they've said Putin is not going to comment on this because John McCain also heavily criticized Russia's attitude towards Syria. He says Russia supports a Syrian regime that is murdering tens of thousands of its own people to remain in power, and it's blocking the U.N. from even condemning these atrocities. What are officials saying about John McCain weighing in there?

ISMAILOV: Well, I mean, the officials try not to put too much weight onto what Mr. McCain said because - well, first of all because Pravda online site is a very limited resource. It doesn't have a huge audience. And it's not as sort of, in terms of media, as respectable as let's say a newspaper Kommersant or Rossiyskaya Gazeta or Vedomosti.

The other factor is that the Russian government has already decided on its position regarding Syrian chemical weapons, and it's going at it at full steam and together with the United States and the European partners trying to work out how those chemical weapons could be destroyed.

When it comes to the internal politics, they've heard that sort of criticism before, and they don't really care much about it.

YOUNG: Well, this comes, of course, at a time of this delicate negotiation between the U.S. and Russia over Syria's chemical weapons. Yesterday the State Department indicated that there might be some wiggle room in the deadline that had been set of this weekend for Syria to disclose its inventory of weapons, a sense that they hadn't given the country enough time.

And Putin spoke today and seemed to indicate that while he wasn't sure that the whole plan of destroying the chemical weapons could be carried out, he did see some signs of hope. What did he say?

ISMAILOV: Well, I mean, he was talking at the Valdai gathering of analysts and journalists, which happens every year. So he said that actually Syrians have made practical steps towards working and submitting inventory on time. But at the same time, Putin said, he used just these words, nobody can give 100 percent guarantee that the time frame will be followed.

So here we can see that they are trying to leave wiggle room as well, but at the same time Russians are quite adamant that the use of chemical weapons in Damascus on the 21st of August was a provocation, and Putin repeated that again at Valdai gathering. So the Russians actually haven't changed their position, and they will continue to pursue it.

YOUNG: So Famil, one last thought, your opinion. Did the John McCain op-ed today help in that goal of getting Syria to give up its chemical weapons with the help of Russia? Did it hurt it? Or does it not matter?

ISMAILOV: I don't think it matters at all because this is not the way, not the resource, not the media outlet that would appeal to a big audience and have any serious impact.

YOUNG: The BBC's Famil Ismailov in Russia, thanks so much.

ISMAILOV: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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