In a much-anticipated response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered a blistering op-ed in the Russian publication Pravda in which he accuses Putin of being a corrupt autocrat.
“President Putin doesn’t believe in these values because he 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,” McCain wrote.
“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 promised the op-ed at the end of last week, in what started as an offhand comment to CNN’s Jake Tapper. In response, Dmitry Sudakov, the English editor of Pravda, told Foreign Policy that McCain would be “welcome” to write an opinion piece for the newspaper.
Pravda isn’t as friendly or neutral a publication for McCain as the Times was for Putin. McCain wrote in the op-ed that Sudakov referred to him as “an active anti-Russian politician for many years.”
McCain is heavy in his criticism of Putin and surprisingly light on specifics involving Syria, a topic on which he has blasted Putin publicly of late. McCain wrote in the op-ed only that Putin was supportive of an Assad regime that “is murdering tens of thousands of its own people.”
Some key passages from the full op-ed, entitled “Russians Deserve Better Than Putin”:
I believe you should live according to the dictates of your conscience, not your government. I believe you deserve the opportunity to improve your lives in an economy that is built to last and benefits the many, not just the powerful few. You should be governed by a rule of law that is clear, consistently and impartially enforced and just. I make that claim because I believe the Russian people, no less than Americans, are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered. President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. 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.
They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin’s rule.
President Putin claims his purpose is to restore Russia to greatness at home and among the nations of the world. […] How has he strengthened Russia’s international stature? By allying Russia with some of the world’s most offensive and threatening tyrannies. 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. 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.
President Putin doesn’t believe in these values because he 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.
I do believe in you. I believe in your capacity for self-government and your desire for justice and opportunity. I believe in the greatness of the Russian people, who suffered enormously and fought bravely against terrible adversity to save your nation. I believe in your right to make a civilization worthy of your dreams and sacrifices. 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.