John McCain's Pravda Op-Ed Reveals How Hard Putin Has Trolled Him

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has published an op-ed with Russian website Pravda that posits itself as a worthy response to Vladimir Putin’s anti-military intervention New York Times op-ed published last week.

It’s not. And it’s worryingly stupid that anyone could think it is.

First, there’s the issue of where the article is published. It appears that McCain’s decision to publish with is based on an off the cuff comment he made during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper (“I would love to have a commentary in Pravda”) and some excellent follow up work by John Hudson of Foreign Policy.

However, McCain’s comment and his ultimate decision to publish with Pravda ultimately reveal an ignorance of modern Russia. Pravda was the official newspaper of Communist Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution, linked intrinsically with early leaders like Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. At it’s peak it could probably be considered a “paper of record” for Russia, with a huge circulation.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Russia isn’t a Communist country anymore. So, after 1991, Pravda struggled without its huge Communist Party base, and was shut down for periods. considers itself a successor to the Communist paper, but it is not connected to it. As Reuters notes, it has a limited readership. Steve Rosenberg of the BBC has filmed a neat video trying to find McCain’s op-ed at newspaper stands.

Put simply, it’s nowhere near the equivalent of the New York Times. To have anything like the reach amongst Putin had with the Times, McCain would have been better off publishing in one of Russia’s many newspapers — for example, the state-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the weekly Argumenty i Fakty, or the upmarket daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Better yet, he could have made his argument on one of the many very popular TV news stations.

That McCain would immediately think of Pravda shows a worrying Cold War mentality. Pravda is pretty much consigned to the past now, but McCain evidently thinks of that past when dealing with modern Russia.

Perhaps worse than the outlet, however, is the focus of the content. Rather than talk about the issue at hand (Syria and chemical weapons), McCain focuses on Russian President Vladimir Putin and how he is an international bogeyman. Syria is mentioned once in passing.

Despite his (fairly spot on) criticisms of Putin, McCain’s op-ed will change nothing within Russia. Putin has remained remarkably popular over the past few years, and the opposition leaders are already entrenched. Frankly, they don’t need a U.S. senator to tell them why their president is a bad guy.

All McCain has done is turn the conversation outside Russia away from Syria and onto Putin, and it’s hard not to imagine Putin smiling at this turn of events.

It really did feel like Putin was trolling the world with his New York Times op-ed. With his response, it certainly seems like Senator McCain got trolled.

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