WASHINGTON — 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 a Russian news website 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 2½-year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
McCain's opinion piece was published Thursday on the news website Pravda.ru, a website established by former Pravda journalists. The newspaper Pravda is an organ of the Communist Party and is no longer an influential or widely read newspaper, in contrast to its huge presence in the Soviet Union's media landscape.
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.