WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain said Sunday the United States should respond harshly to Russia's anti-democratic actions and suggested that President Bush is reconsidering his assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After meeting Putin for the first time in June 2001, Bush said he had been able to gain "a sense of his soul" and had found Putin to be "very straightforward and trustworthy."
Recalling Bush's assessment just months after taking office, McCain said: "Look, we all say things that are stupid. ... I'm sure that the president has re-evaluated his position in light of Putin's recent actions."
McCain, R-Ariz., added: "It was early in his presidency. The president was trying to develop a good relationship with Putin. ... I don't mean stupid. I'll say it was stupid as far as I'm concerned, but all of us make statements that are sometimes not correct in hindsight."
McCain, a possible presidential contender in 2008, said Putin has repressed Russians and their media, supported Belarus' authoritarian president and not cooperated with the U.S. in dealing with Iran's suspected development of nuclear weapons.
"I think that we've got to respond in some way," McCain told NBC's "Meet the Press." "The glimmerings of democracy are very faint in Russia today, and so I would be very harsh."
McCain has urged Bush not to attend the Group of Eight summit of industrial nations in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July.
Last week Bush said he was concerned with Russia's crackdown on internal dissent but would still attend the summit. "I haven't given up on Russia," he said.