Sen. John McCain lambasts Russian President Vladimir Putin in an op-ed published on the Russian news site Pravda on Thursday, calling him a corrupt autocrat who suppresses democracy, political dissent, and economic progress to maintain his iron grip on power.
McCain’s op-ed is a response to Putin’s September 11 op-ed in The New York Times, in which Putin argued against a U.S.-led intervention in Syria and accused the U.S. of working against the interests of international law and human rights. McCain rarely mentions Syria—or Putin’s op-ed—in his Pravda piece but uses the opportunity to lay out his case that Putin is systematically disrespecting the Russian people and abusing Russia’s wealth and power to enrich a small group of wealthy associates to the detriment of the rest of the country. At a basic level, Putin doesn’t believe in the values of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the rule of law, political openness, and social equality, McCain writes in his op-ed, which is directed at the Russian people.
“President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values,” McCain writes in Pravda, a Web site founded in 1999 that is not connected to the official newspaper of the Russian Communist Party. “They don’t respect your dignity or accept your authority over them. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption.”
McCain first mentioned his intention to respond in writing to Putin in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on September 12. Foreign Policy then contacted Pravda to see if the site would commit to running the op-ed. Pravda agreed to accept the piece, but one of its editors called McCain “an active anti-Russian politician.”
“I am not anti-Russian. I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today,” McCain responds in his piece. “When I criticize your government, it is not because I am anti-Russian. It is because I believe you deserve a government that believes in you and answers to you. And I long for the day when you have it.”
McCain also criticizes Putin’s government for passing a law banning the public discussion of homosexuality and for imprisoning the members of the band Pussy Riot after they gave an impromptu concert at a famous Moscow church. He also writes about the case of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was beaten and died in Russian prison. Last year, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability and Rule of Law Act, which created a list of Russian officials implicated in human-rights violations and subjects them to travel and financial sanctions.
The Russian government responded by posthumously trying and convicting Magnitsky of tax fraud and then passing a law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American parents.
Russia’s status in the world has been damaged, not bolstered, by Putin and his policies, McCain argues. Russia’s energy resource-dependent economy will falter when energy prices go down, he writes, and international investors are fleeing Russia because the lack of rule of law makes doing business there too risky. Meanwhile, Putin has allied Russia with “some of the world’s most offensive and threatening tyrannies,” including the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, writes McCain.
“By supporting a Syrian regime that is murdering tens of thousands of its own people to remain in power and by blocking the United Nations from even condemning its atrocities,” he writes. “By refusing to consider the massacre of innocents, the plight of millions of refugees, the growing prospect of a conflagration that engulfs other countries in its flames an appropriate subject for the world’s attention. 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.”