McCain blasts Putin in opinion piece in Pravda

Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.)
CBS News

WASHINGTON Republican Sen. John McCain is accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of corruption, repression and self-serving rule in an opinion piece for Pravda that answers the Russian leader's broadside published last week in an American newspaper.

In an op-ed headlined "Russians Deserve Better Than Putin," McCain singles 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 2-1/2-year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

McCain insists he is not anti-Russian but rather "more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today."

"President Putin doesn't believe ... in you. 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.

The senator submitted the editorial to Pravda and was told it would be posted on Thursday. It was.

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.

Last week, Putin blamed opposition forces for the latest deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and argued, in an opinion piece for The New York Times, that President Obama's remarks about America were self-serving. Putin also said it was dangerous for America to think of itself as exceptional, a reference to a comment Mr. Obama made.

Russia expert Beth Knobel is scratching her head over McCain's choice of Pravda as an outlet.

"Placing a piece like this in Pravda," she says, "shows no understanding whatsoever of contemporary Russia. Pravda hasn't been a factor in Russia in over 20 years. has almost no audience at all -- something like 6,000 actual visitors a day."

Its writing, she says, leaves much to be desired. And she calls the translation into Russian of McCain's words "clunky," though not wrong.

In addition, "McCain is just wrong to say no one but Pravda would publish this," Knobel observes. "His staff is not serving him well on this." There are, she says, many legitimate, respected national newspapers in Russia that would have published it.

McCain wasn't the first U.S. lawmaker to respond to Putin. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., wrote in an editorial for the Moscow Times about the suppression of the Russian people and the disregard for basic human rights.