Rooting Against 'Vladimir the First'
McCain accused then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of wanting to rebuild the long-gone Russian Empire in August 2008, amid the Georgian military offensive against its breakaway region of South Ossetia, which prompted Russia to send in troops to protect local residents. "Of course we have to deal with Russia and we deal with Putin. But it has to be on a very realistic basis. And not one that there's any illusions about his ambitions," he claimed.
"I think it's very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire," McCain told reporters in Pennsylvania. "Not the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire."
Russian 'Gas Station'
John McCain took aim at Russia, calling it a "gas station masquerading as a country," after he visited Ukraine in March 2014 in the wake of the violent Maidan protests and a coup largely supported by Washington. "It's kleptocracy. It's corruption. It's a nation that's really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy, and so economic sanctions are important," he told CNN.
Russia's 'Slaughter' in Ukraine
In September 2014, the senator once again aired his distaste of Vladimir Putin's alleged empire nostalgia. In an interview with the BBC, he claimed that Russia was sending "thousands of Russian troops" to Ukraine and "slaughtering" the local population. He also accused the Russian president of planning to split eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country, as well as encroach upon Moldova and the Baltics.
The Kremlin, however, denied having any plans to take over Ukraine or other countries whatsoever, and has repeatedly dismissed allegations that Russian troops are involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Scared by Putin More Than by Daesh?
In an interview with ABC in May 2017, McCain alleged that Vladimir Putin posed a bigger threat to global security than the infamous Daesh terrorist group, which is outlawed in Russia and a handful of other countries. While he admitted that Daesh "can do terrible things," he claimed that "it's the Russians who tried to destroy the fundamentals of democracy and that is to change the outcome of an American election."
He went on to accuse Moscow of "dismembering" Ukraine, referring to the Crimean reunification, and urged the US to go ahead with sanctions and "other penalties," citing Russia's alleged interference in the presidential elections in America and France.
The Crimean peninsula reunited with Russia following a referendum in March 2014, in which the people of Crimea voted to join the country.
Push to Hack the Kremlin
In his candid memoir The Restless Wave, published this May, McCain once again decried the alleged US election hacks and attributed cyber-attacks to Vladimir Putin. "We have cyber capabilities too. They should be used to expose the epic scale of his regime's corruption or to embarrass [Putin] in other ways," he wrote.
In the same book, McCain labelled Putin an "evil man" who is up to "evil deeds," which include the destruction of what he called the US-led liberal world. "Putin's goal isn't to defeat a candidate or a party. He means to defeat the West," the senator wrote. "He meddled in one election, and he will do it again because it worked and because he has not been made to stop."
Both Russia and Donald Trump have repeatedly denied allegations that Moscow employed hackers and internet trolls during the 2016 US election in a bid to sway the vote in favor of the Republican candidate, and that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia.
'Putin is Not Merely a Competitor'
John McCain turned up the heat on President Donald Trump after the annual NATO summit in July, calling his performance at the summit "disappointing yet ultimately unsurprising" and urging POTUS to "hold Putin accountable" during his upcoming talks with the Russian president in Helsinki.
#Putin is not our friend nor merely a competitor. Putin is our enemy—not b/c we wish it so, but b/c he has chosen to be. He chose to invade Ukraine & annex Crimea. He chose to help Assad slaughter Syrians. He chose to attack our election & undermine democracies around the world.— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) 12 июля 2018 г.
"[Vladimir] Putin is not America's friend, nor merely a competitor," McCain tweeted on July 12. "Putin is America's enemy, not because we wish it so but because he has chosen to be."
Excoriation of Trump-Putin Talks
In a stinging verbal attack on POTUS amid an ongoing Trump-Russia inquiry, McCain called his press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." He blasted Donald Trump for "not being willing to stand up" to Putin and enabling the latter to "spew propaganda and lies" to the world.
He labelled the Russian President a "tyrant" and accused him of several major wrongdoings, such as his "violent disregard" for the sovereignty of his neighbors, the "slaughter" of Syrians, "violation" of international treaties, and "assault" on democracy across the globe. All in all, he slammed the Helsinki talks as a "tragic mistake."
What Putin Said About McCain
John McCain' outspoken criticism of Russia's politics and Vladimir Putin led him to push for anti-Russia bills in the US Senate and supplies of lethal weapons to Ukraine; however, this sparked no backlash from the Russian president.
"Well, honestly, I like Senator McCain to a certain extent. And I'm not joking. I like him because of his patriotism, and I can relate to his consistency in fighting for the interests of his own country," Putin told Oliver Stone last June. "People with such convictions, like the Senator you mentioned, they still live in the Old World. And they're reluctant to look into the future, they are unwilling to recognize how fast the world is changing."