McCain slams Putin in Pravda: Who's winning war of words?

First, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the US in The New York Times. Now Sen. John McCain has fired back on a Russia website, saying Mr. Putin is holding Russia back.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, speaks with reporters outside the White House in Washington after a closed-door meeting about Syria with President Obama earlier this month.

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin in an opinion piece published in the online version of Pravda on Thursday, saying the Russian leader uses corruption, repression and violence to rule in his own interest.

“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,” wrote Senator McCain.

The Arizona senator and former GOP presidential candidate billed himself as more pro-Russian than the current Moscow regime, saying he was dispelling the falsehoods Russian officials use to stay in power.

McCain focused in particular on Mr. Putin and his associates punishing dissent. The American lawmaker recounted the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had accused the Moscow government of colluding with organized criminals, then was beaten and denied medical treatment while in prison.

McCain criticized the imprisonment of the rock band Pussy Riot after they were accused of staging an anti-Putin protest inside a Russian Orthodox Church. And he accused Putin of siding with a dictator by backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“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,” wrote McCain.

McCain’s article was intended as a riposte to an op-ed by Putin published in The New York Times on Sept. 12. That piece criticized the US for threatening airstrikes against Syria, saying such an attack would be contrary to international law, and insisted the US should not think of itself as an exceptional nation, as “we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Putin’s op-ed stirred up controversy in the US, with some pundits saying his arguments made sense and reflected those made by domestic critics of the Obama administration’s approach to Syria, while others said that his approach was cynical hypocrisy meant to weaken Washington’s resolve.

Will McCain’s piece stir up a similar discussion in Russia? Perhaps not – as many commentators are noting today, its publishing circumstances were far from similar. The website Pravda.ru on which it appeared is not the same as the newspaper Pravda, which was once the flagship publication of the Soviet Communist Party, though today it has a much smaller reach.

Pravda.ru is a small site founded in 1999. It has English and Russian editions and covers everything from politics to fashion and celebrities, notes CNN.

It’s not clear if McCain’s effort was published in the Pravda he wanted.

“While editors at the communist Pravda publication said last week they were not going to accept an op-ed by McCain, a spokesman for the senator said McCain submitted one anyway, in addition to [submitting it] to Pravda.ru, since there was confusion over the two different Pravdas. As expected, it was not published by the newspaper,” writes CNN Thursday.

It’s still possible that McCain’s critique of Putin’s government could go viral, reaching more Russians than the circumstances of its publication would otherwise indicate. Some Russian dissidents were quick to react positively to the US lawmaker’s article, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“It’s an embarrassing moment, when a US senator seems closer to Russians than a Russian Federation Senator,” tweeted anti-corruption activist Pavel Senko, according to RFE/RL.

Meanwhile, a top Russian official was dismissive of McCain, saying that his article did not respond directly to the points raised by Putin in The New York Times. Putin criticized the US for often using force in the international arena, and “McCain does not say a word on the issue”, said Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s committee for international affairs, according to a report in Itar-Tass.

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