ABOARD THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN PLANE—Republican presidential candidate John McCain kept up his criticism today of the Russian invasion of Georgia, noting that he spoke again this morning with Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili and discussed the latest abuses by Russian troops. "There is a clause in this cease-fire that the Russians are using as a loophole for maintaining their presence there," McCain said in an interview with U.S. News editors.
McCain said Saakashvili is "deeply saddened and outraged by the human-rights violations that are taking place." The Arizona senator said he has talked to Saakashvili every day during the current crisis. McCain also referred to media reports that "the Russian troops reeked with alcohol and are looting."
Since the crisis began, the entire episode has reinforced McCain's doubts about the intentions of the Russian government. McCain said the rise of Vladimir Putin, Russia's powerful prime minister and former president, has revealed Russian ambitions for a "restoration of the old Russian empire."
The military clashes, set off by disputes in two pro-Russian secessionist regions of Georgia, have triggered echoes of old Cold War-era tensions between Moscow and Washington, which has strongly backed Georgia's democratically elected President Saakashvili.
In recent days, the English-speaking Georgian leader has talked with President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as well as with McCain. All three have expressed support for Georgia and called on Russia to withdraw its troops. President Bush sent humanitarian aid and dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi for talks with Georgian leaders.
McCain, speaking with U.S. News en route from Birmingham, Mich., to Eagle, Colo., said there would not be a return to the Cold War but there would be a "dramatically different relationship" between the United States and Russia unless Moscow's behavior changes. "It is not acceptable behavior in the 21st century," McCain argued.
In the past, McCain has advocated expelling Russia from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations, citing its pullback from democratic principles, but it is unlikely that the major European members would go along with such a move.
Pivoting to the presidential campaign, McCain said: "It's very clear that the overriding issue is the economy. Americans are hurting very badly...but I also think that national security is an underlying issue because we have just found out in the last few days that we live in a very dangerous world and there are situations which can arise which were not readily foreseen, certainly not by average citizens...that require experience, knowledge, and judgment."