Vladimir Putin does not like John McCain. Whether it’s McCain’s 2007 remark that he looked into Putin’s eyes and “saw three letters: a K, a G, and a B,” or his announcement during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war that “today, we are all Georgians,” the Arizona senator has been a thorn in Putin’s side.
It’s not surprising, then, that McCain is enjoying the burgeoning “Slavic Spring” protests. It’s also no surprise that McCain has happily shared his feelings with Putin via social media. The Washington Post reports:
“Dear Vlad, The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you,” McCain tweeted earlier this month. Two days later, he delivered remarks on the Senate floor excoriating the Russian government on missile defense, human rights and interference in Georgia, among other issues.
On Thursday, in his nationally televised and wide-ranging “phone in,” Putin was asked about McCain’s pugnacious tweet, and the suggestion that the kind of uprisings that have unfurled across the Middle East could be replicated in Russia.
According to reports from Moscow, Putin turned stone-faced.
“Mr. McCain was captured, and they kept him — not just in prison, but in a pit — for several years,” he said, referring to McCain’s years in captivity during the Vietnam War. “Anyone would go nuts.”
Putin also invoked the NATO mission in Libya, saying McCain has “the blood of peaceful civilians on his hands, and he can’t live without the kind of disgusting, repulsive scenes like the killing of Qaddafi.”
There is perhaps no love lost between McCain and Putin. On Thursday, McCain shot back on Twitter: “Dear Vlad, is it something I said?”
It’s pretty clear McCain got under Putin’s skin, and this is more than schoolyard taunting. During the 2008 war, a Georgian woman told Michael Totten: “The night they came close to Tbilisi, Bush and McCain made their strongest speeches yet. The Russians seemed to back down. Bush and McCain have been very good for us.”
Whether or not McCain’s strong statements influenced Russian behavior, McCain serves as a steady reminder to Putin that the free world is watching. And it’s telling that in Putin’s mind, Qaddafi is the victim and McCain the bloodthirsty one.