Opinion

John McCain: Vladimir Putin 'is not a man with a soul'

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Russia,John McCain,Vladimir Putin

First former President George W. Bush and now President Obama have misjudged Vladimir Putin, according to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who described the Russian president as a soulless dictator.

"This is not a man with a soul," McCain said Thursday morning at the Atlantic Council. "This is a KGB apparatchik colonel who has risen to the top of the greasy pole. And we must understand who we're dealing with. All these years that Medvedev was the guy, didn't anybody know that he was the puppet? Didn't anybody know who really was the dictator for life?"

Dmitry Medvedev followed Putin as Russia's president from 2008 to 2012 while Putin held the title of Prime Minister. McCain recalled the time that Obama told Medvedev in 2012 that he'd "have more flexibility" after his reelection campaign as an example, along with Bush saying he'd looked into Putin's eyes and got "a sense of his soul," as an example of American presidents misjudging the Russian strongman.

After Medvedev's presidential term ended, Putin once again took the title of president.

"That doesn't mean confrontation, it doesn't mean re-ignition of the Cold War, but it means speaking up, and it means supporting people — like in Georgia right now," McCain continued. "Do you know that, every few months, the Russians move the fence from Abkhazia and South Ossetia further and further into Georgian territory? And what do we say? Nothing."

Putin has worked assiduously in recent months to craft an image congenial to the American public, while portraying Obama as out of step with American opinion and international norms.

The Russian autocrat, who granted temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, tweaked Obama during a Thursday press conference.

“How do I feel about Obama after Snowden’s revelations? I envy him, because he can get away with it,” Putin said of the NSA programs.

Earlier this year, he took to the pages of the Gray Lady to influence American public opinion. "We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement," Putin wrote in a Sept. 11 New York Times op-ed regarding Syria. The line, no doubt, appealed to the liberal base that Obama had struggled to rally around a military strike on Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's regime.

"And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is 'what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional,'" Putin continued. "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Putin's mouthing of support for "traditional values" during his State of the Nation speech last week succeeded in inducing Pat Buchanan to praise him as "a paleoconservative" in his latest column.

"No moral confusion here, this is moral clarity, agree or disagree," Buchanan wrote. "President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire 'the focus of evil in the modern world.' President Putin is implying that Barack Obama's America may deserve the title in the 21st century."

Pravda, the house organ of the Soviet Union that now serves as the official publication of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, made a corollary argument while assuring the Russian people that "American conservatives admire Putin."

"Reagan called the Soviet Union the evil empire but many forget he also called communism in America evil as well," Xavier Lerma wrote in Pravda. "They have no Reagan but they see Putin whom they wish was their president."

Presumably, the Russian people hold Reagan in high regard given his role in ending the communist dictatorship that persecuted them for so long. Now Putin, the former KGB operative who spied on the Russian people on behalf of that dictatorship, finds it convenient to convince the Russian people — who were recently protesting the fraud that ensured his "election" as Russia's president -- that American conservatives regard Putin as an heir to Reagan.

If only the "KGB apparatchik colonel" could find an old Reagan communications director willing to spin the actions of Russia's latest autocrat.

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