MOSCOW (AFP) – US Senator John McCain penned a blistering column for a Russian news website on Thursday, telling the Russian people that their President Vladimir Putin is a dissent-quashing tyrant who "doesn't believe in you."
The senior US lawmaker and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee accosted Putin and his associates for rigging elections, imprisoning and murdering opponents, fostering corruption and "destroying" Russia's reputation on the world stage.
"I am not anti-Russian," McCain wrote in the piece for Pravda.ru website. "I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today."
McCain last week said he intended to write an op-ed piece for Russian media after Putin had his own column published in The New York Times.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Russian News Service radio that the president would read the piece, but is unlikely to respond.
"McCain is not known as a fan of Putin. To engage in polemics -- I doubt it, his is the point of view of a person who lives across the ocean," Peskov said.
The website Pravda.Ru is not known as a serious news source and has nothing to do with the newspaper Pravda published by the Communist party, which was the country's most important paper in the Soviet era but which has now fallen into obscurity.
Some observers have said that the publishing company Pravda.ru is bankrolled by the Kremlin, as it also runs websites that are staunchly pro-Putin and full of stories smearing his opposition.
McCain's piece was sent to both Pravda publications, his office said.
Putin in his widely quoted New York Times piece criticised Obama's plan to bomb Russia's ally Syria, demanded that Moscow's plan to secure Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles be given time to work, and slammed Washington for "relying solely on brute force" to conduct its international affairs.
In a blunt, often personal counter-punch that ran more than 800 words, McCain wrote that he bears no ill will toward the Russian people, only the country's government which he says ignores humanity's "inalienable rights" of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
"President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. They don't respect your dignity or accept your authority over them," wrote McCain, who was a staunch supporter of US President Barack Obama's early plan for a military strike against Syria for that regime's apparent use of chemical weapons.
"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," he added.
He brought up the case of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer whose prison death three years ago became a black mark on Russia's human rights record.
Putin, in his third term as president, "is not enhancing Russia's global reputation. He is destroying it," McCain said.
"He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed," untrusted by countries seeking a more peaceful and prosperous world.
"President Putin doesn't believe in these values because he doesn't believe in you," McCain said.
The hawkish senator has been highly critical of the Russian plan to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons.
He said the framework reached by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be "meaningless" without a UN Security Council resolution that threatens the use of force should Syria's President Bashar al-Assad not comply.