How Russians Read McCain's Pravda Op-Ed on Putin

McCain debates Obama. 16 October 2008. Photo by Travis Crawford, CC 2.0.

McCain debates Obama. 16 October 2008. Photo by Travis Crawford, CC 2.0.

John McCain, a sitting Senator and the Republican Party presidential candidate in the 2008 US presidential election, is one of the American political establishment's most outspoken critics of Putin and loudest proponents of US intervention in Syria. Perhaps seeking to beat Putin at his own game, McCain recently published his own opinion piece in the Russian press. The article, which appeared on the Russian website on September 19, 2013, was scathing in its description of Putin. Citing everything from Russia's law against “Gay Propaganda” [GV], the fate of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and Russia's over-reliance of resource extraction, McCain lambasted Putin's domestic and foreign policies, claiming

[Putin] 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.

While Americans were incensed at being lectured by a foreign politician whom many regard as either an idiot or a hypocrite, many Russians, it turns out, reacted no differently. Conservative blogger fotoksi, whose blog regularly decries America and American foreign policy accused McCain [ru] of simply attempting to score political points at home.

США сейчас переживают настоящий декаданс. Хотя пропагандистская машина Штатов нахваливает президента США Барака Обаму и критикует президента РФ Владимира Путина… в Штатах нарастает недовольство Обамой, при этом консервативные американцы восхищаются Путиным.

The USA is currently living in complete decadence. Although the US propoganda machine sings the praises of US President Barack Obama and criticizes Russian President Vladimir Putin… in the States the dissatisfaction with Obama is growing, while conservative Americans are enamoured by Putin.

It wasn't only fans of Putin who were put off by McCain. Grigory Rasputin, a blogger with no love for Putin or United Russia, had harsh words for the Senator, as well.

Once again, John McCain, who has been in the US Congress for 30 years, is one of the biggest f*cking idiots of all time in my opinion. Typical Republican, right?

Some oppositionists, on the other hand, welcomed McCain's criticisms of Putin. Oleg Kozyrev, a prominent writer, blogger, and liberal activist, went as far [ru] as declaring his newfound allegiance to McCain's Republican Party.

Good stuff from McCain in I think that in America I'd have been a Republican.

It wasn't just the content of McCain's piece that raised eyebrows but where he chose to have it published. While Pravda was the biggest newspaper in the Soviet Union and the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, it was dissolved along with the Soviet Union. There are currently two Russian publications called Pravda. One paper belongs to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and the other is an online, stridently anti-American publication that appears in English and Russian. Both papers claim to be the “official” Pravda, and relations between the two are extremely bitter. Today, neither enjoys a large circulation. BBC Journalist Steve Rosenberg combed the news stands of Moscow to find a copy and was greeted by vendors with confusion.

Some thought McCain's selection of Pravda as a platform unintentionally demonstrated how mired the Senator is in Cold-War thinking, showing him to be out of touch with the basic facts of post-communist Russia. Ilya Yashin, a liberal opposition figure, tweeted [ru]

Obviously it seems that McCain isn't up to speed on the fact that the site is not the famous “Pravda” he remembers from the Cold War, but a Surkovian parody.

Vladimir Putin echoed these sentiments [ru] at a meeting of the Valdai Club (a forum for Western and Russian journalists and political figures), where he laconically responded to a question on the Senator's piece, saying, “This politician has a lack of information about Russia. He would have been better off coming to the Valdai Club to discuss things.”

In the end, some wondered if McCain has actually done Putin a favor [ru]. Mikhail Dryashin [ru] wrote on his LiveJournal:

Лучшей агитации в пользу Путина и не придумаешь. Я б на месте Кремля Маккейну заплатил бы чего-нибудь.

You couldn't come up with better PR tactic that benefits Putin. If I were in the Kremlin's place, I'd pay money for something this.

Dryashin's concerns about McCain's article were seemingly confirmed by blogger sergzhest, who sarcastically advised [ru] his readers:

Когда в следующий раз столкнетесь с каким-нибудь мудаком из белоленточных или представителем прочих “оппозиционных сил”, рассказывающим вам об ужасах преступного режима, просто ткните его мордой в эту статью. И скажите, что все аргументы оппозиционера против Путина вы уже знаете. Из статьи американского сенатора.

Next time you run into some white-ribboned d**khead or representative of the “opposition forces” telling you about the horrors of the criminal regime, just stick this article in his mug. And tell him you already know all the oppositionist arguments against Putin—from the American Senator's article.

For many Russians, the main takeaway of McCain's article remains the decision to publish his anti-Putin tract in such a peripheral newspaper. While the memory of “Pravda” newspaper is still vivid for millions of Americans alive during the Cold War, the USSR's Communist Party and its mouthpiece have been broken and gathering dust for more than two decades in Russia. It's unlikely that McCain's publicity counterattack against Putin has won him great respect inside Russia, but perhaps that was never the plan. Given his obvious disconnect from modern Russia, McCain's letter was probably more about convincing an American audience to ignore Putin on Syria than persuade Russians to see their own president's failings.

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