MOSCOW -- Sen. John McCain said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "destroying" his country's reputation in a blistering op-ed article for one of the country’s leading news websites early Thursday.
The Arizona Republican accused Putin of allying himself with tyrants and ruling through violence and repression, a scathing retort to a New York Times editorial by Putin last week.
"He is not enhancing Russia's global reputation," McCain said in the piece published on Pravda.ru. "He is destroying it," adding that by befriending tyrants and making enemies of the oppressed, Putin was losing the trust of nations seeking to “build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world.”
“President Putin doesn't believe in these values because he doesn't believe in you [the Russian people],” he wrote.
“He doesn't believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn't believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you,” he added.
Questioning Putin’s alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad, which he called one of “the world’s most offensive and threatening tyrannies,” McCain asked: “How has he strengthened Russia’s international stature?”
“By supporting a Syrian regime that is murdering tens of thousands of its own people to remain in power and by blocking the United Nations from even condemning its atrocities,” he said, answering his own question. “By refusing to consider the massacre of innocents, the plight of millions of refugees, the growing prospect of a conflagration that engulfs other countries in its flames an appropriate subject for the world's attention.”
McCain, who first ran for the presidency in 2000 and was the Republican nominee in 2008, also questioned Putin’s management of the Russian economy, which he said is based almost entirely on a few natural resources that will rise and fall with those commodities.
“Its riches will not last,” the Capitol Hill veteran said. “And, while they do, they will be mostly in the possession of the corrupt and powerful few. Capital is fleeing Russia, which - lacking rule of law and a broad-based economy - is considered too risky for investment and entrepreneurism.
“He has given you a political system that is sustained by corruption and repression and isn't strong enough to tolerate dissent.”
McCain said he had written the article in response to the accusation from the Pravda.ru editor, Dmitry Sudakov, that he was “an active anti-Russian politician” and claimed he was, “more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today.”
He explained that he was writing because he respected the Russian people’s right to self-determination.
“I believe you should live according to the dictates of your conscience, not your government,” he wrote. “I believe you deserve the opportunity to improve your lives in an economy that is built to last and benefits the many, not just the powerful few.”
“A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered,” he added. “President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values.”
He said that “rampant corruption” in Russia’s courts, economy and the terrorizing and assassination of journalists who tried to expose it, was used by the country’s leaders to perpetuate their power.
“They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn,” he added. “They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin's rule.”
The Pravda.ru website is a privately owned pro-Kremlin website, different for the Pravda newspaper, the Russian Communist Party mouthpiece.
Boris Komotskiy, editor-in-chief of the Pravda newspaper, told NBC News that it would have been "unacceptable to participate in such black propaganda" in his publication.
Readers for the most part appeared unsympathetic to McCain's opinions.
"Btw John. Your country is bankrupt with a lot of weapons," one wrote. "Once in a several years you're selecting the victim-country to create there the chaos. Iraq, [Liyba], Syria... who next? But we are not afraid you."
NBC News' Albina Kovalyova contributed to this article.