U.S. Senator John McCain has defended an opinion piece he wrote for the Russian website Pravda.ru in which he said Russians deserve better than the policies of President Vladimir Putin’s government.
"The comments that I make are based on facts -- about repression, about Magnitsky, about total control of the media, and the human rights abuses that continue," McCain said.
McCain authored an op-ed piece that was published by Pravda.ru in response to a similar article by Putin that criticized U.S. policies in the pages of "The New York Times" last week.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service
on September 19, McCain said he wrote his op-ed to make sure Russians know the truth about things like the death in custody of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky and laws that effectively ban homosexuality.
"The truth is always an important thing, and the comments that Mr. Putin made [in his"New York Times" op-ed] about the United States of America and events here were directly contradicted by the situation in Russia, and if I ever have a chance to speak to the people of Russia, no matter how insignificant it will be, I will seize that opportunity because I am pro-Russian, and the abuses that are being heaped upon them by the Putin autocracy is, in my view, something that deserves our sympathy and our opposition," McCain explained.
U.S.-Russian relations have sunk in recent months over differences in the Syrian civil war and following Moscow’s decision to grant fugitive former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden temporary asylum. U.S. President Barack Obama canceled a planned bilateral summit with Putin in September.
McCain said the future of U.S relations with Russia should be predicated on Washington seeing Putin "for who he really is."
"We need to have a realistic approach to our relations with Russia, understand Vladimir Putin for what he is and what his motivation is, which is to restore the prestige and power of the Russian empire," McCain said.
"And he will take extraordinary steps in order to do that. In Chechnya, there was wholesale slaughter, we all know that. He invaded Georgia, he is now pressuring all the countries around in the region that he believes are the so-called near abroad. It is Vladimir Putin -- we just have to understand him for what he is."
The U.S. senator accused Putin of lying when he accused Syrian fighters opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s regime of using chemical weapons, and he called for more assistance to be given to the Free Syrian Army.
McCain said planeloads of Russian weapons were arriving regularly in Damascus to supply government forces.
He also said he believed there are Russian officials involved in what he called "the needless torture and beating and murder of Sergei Magnitsky" who haven’t been punished and said he wanted to see the U.S. blacklist of names expanded.
Written by Heather Maher based on an interview by RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Yuri Zhigalkin