The Cable

Exclusive: John McCain Will Attack Vladimir Putin in the Pages of Pravda

In a first-of-its kind arrangement, the editors of Russian news site Pravda have tentatively agreed to publish a column by Sen. John McCain that will attack the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement comes one day after Putin criticized the United States in a widely-read column in The New York Times.

"If John McCain wants to write something for us, he is welcome," Dmitry Sudakov, the English editor of Pravda tells The Cable. "Mr. McCain has been an active anti-Russian politician for many years already. We have been critical of his stance on Russia and international politics in our materials, but we would be only pleased to publish a story penned by such a prominent politician as John McCain."

When The Cable reached the senator's office with the offer, McCain's communications director Brian Rogers responded within minutes. "On the record: Senator McCain would be glad to write something for Pravda, so we'll be reaching out to Dmitry with a submission."

The beginning of this surprising arrangement all started last night when your trusty Cable guy watched an interview between McCain and CNN's Jake Tapper about Putin's latest op-ed. In a nod to Russia's restrictive press policies (Russia is ranked 148th out of 179 in the world for respecting press freedoms by Reporters Without Borders), McCain joked "I would love to have a commentary in Pravda." 

After The Cable sent this transcript to Pravda, Sudakov bristled at the idea that his news site would be prevented from publishing a column by McCain.

"I am convinced that we would not agree on many things that he would have to say in his column, but an article like that would obviously be published in English and then translated into Russian so that all our Russian readers could read what Mr. McCain has to say," he said. "In addition... we already have a U.S. politician who acts as a regular contributor to Pravda.Ru - Paul Craig Roberts, a former Senator, a man who used to be in the team of Ronald Reagan. So I believe that Mr. McCain is not aware of the real state of affairs in my country when he expresses his judgements of freedom of speech." 

Rogers chuckled at the suggestion that Paul Craig Roberts is a former senator (he's actually a former assistant secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy during the Reagan administration) and pointed to some of his anti-establishment views posted on his personal site. "He was never a senator," said Rogers. "If you look on his website, it's all pro-Putin stuff and how the United States is a criminal regime."

When asked what the senator might write about, Rogers said the senator would have no trouble coming up with something for next week. "This is obviously a target-rich environment," he said. "There are a lot of issues that I'm sure Sen. McCain would want to address: Democracy and human rights in Russia and certainly the Putin regime's aiding and abetting of the Syrian regime, which has killed 100,000 of its own people."

It's worth noting that this is not your grandfather's Pravda. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Pravda was temporarily shut down and a number of its journalists migrated to, which is distinctly anti-Western but no longer an official organ for the Communist Party. 

Regardless, The Cable welcomes this next chapter in U.S-Russian relations and is happy to have played a small part in bringing it about. (And look: McCain didn't even need to hire a fancy public relations firm.)

Update:  The McCain camp e-mails Pravda and promises a submission by Wednesday at the latest. The story was also updated to reflect that does not have a print edition: 

Dmitry: Senator McCain appreciates your offer to publish a piece by him in Pravda. We will send you the op-ed early next week, by Wednesday at the latest. Please let us know if that works. We will have Senator McCain's op-ed translated into Russian so that we can be certain of the accuracy translation, and we will send you a final version in both English and Russian.

Again, we greatly appreciate Pravda's offer to run a piece by Senator McCain. From the reaction I have seen so far, I am sure that this piece will receive great attention.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Best regards,

Brian Rogers

Communications Director

Office of Senator John McCain




The Cable

Kerry and Assad Shadowbox as Chemical Weapons Talks Kick Off

As high-stakes talks between Russia and the United States on Syria's chemical weapons program kicked off Thursday, Damascus began taking steps to formally give up its stockpile of deadly agents. But the positive development coincided with a sinking realization among U.S. officials that Syria's application to the Chemical Weapons Convention offers President Bashar al-Assad a range of opportunities to delay the removal of the unconventional arms from his country.

In a joint appearance with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry immediately warned Assad that delays on his part would invite a U.S. military strike. "This is not a game," said Kerry. "Expectations are high. They are high for the United States, perhaps even more so for Russia, to deliver on the promise of this moment."

But a number of diplomatic obstacles immediately presented themselves. In an interview with Russian state TV. Assad said he would only give up his chemical weapons after the U.S. stops arming the rebels and threatening a military attack -- a demand no one seriously believes the U.S. will acquiesce to. "When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalised," Assad noted. Additionally, Assad said joining the convention allotted him 30 days to hand over information on its stockpiles, a time frame Kerry immediately rejected.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged that any deal to remove Assad's chemical weapons would be a "very complicated process and it will take time." (Experts say removing chemical weapons from Syria could take more than 10 years.) Harf said in order for the U.S. to remain at the negotiating table, "we have to keep seeing forward momentum" from the Syrians on a range of compliance issues. It's not clear what would qualify as "forward momentum," but as the two-day talks in Geneva kick off, the United Nations has said it received documents from Syria on joining the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty.

Needless to say, not everyone is thrilled with America's shift toward diplomacy. The Syrian opposition is warning U.S. officials that accepting Assad's offer would amount to tacit approval of the slaughter of Syrians by conventional means only. "We fear that the international community will fall for this trap," George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Coalition, told The Cable.

In another attempt to cast further doubt on Assad's intentions, the head of the opposition Free Syrian Army told CNN on Thursday that he has intelligence showing that the Assad regime is moving its chemical weapons outside Syrian borders. "Today, we have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and to Iraq," Gen. Salim Idriss said. However, Israeli and Iraqi officials have pushed back against the claim, saying they have seen no evidence of such weapons transfers.

Meanwhile, as the Obama administration's publicity campaign in support of a U.S. strike on Syria cools off, administration officials are no longer broadcasting a uniform message on the importance of military intervention. During a speech in Washington on Thursday, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency characterized the decision to intervene as "an extremely difficult choice" that risked entangling the U.S. into an "extremely complicated Middle Eastern Crisis," said Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. "A ‘damned if we do, damned if we don't' dilemma."