McCain had announced his plan to submit the article, which was titled “Russians Deserve Better than Putin,” to Pravda shortly after the publication of Putin’s op-ed article. McCain, however, was not the first member of Congress to publish a response in the Russian news media.
On Monday, Kommersant, one of Russia’s most prominent daily newspapers, printed an open letter to the Russian people written by Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In his letter, which he also posted in English on his own website, Israel noted that he felt a personal connection because his grandparents were born in Russia. “When my grandparents lived in Russia,” he wrote, “the prospect of your leader using our cherished freedom of the press in America would have been unfathomable.”
In contrast to McCain’s scathing criticism, Israel explained in leveled language why he would potentially vote in favor of a military strike on Syria, although he praised Putin’s efforts to persuade Assad’s government to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal.
“Diplomacy should always be the first preference,” Israel wrote. “However, if diplomacy proves to not be an option, I believe the U.S. must degrade and deter the further use of chemical weapons, without boots on the ground and in a limited, focused and swift way.”
He continued, “Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons repeatedly, and with each new attack that went unanswered by the international community, more innocent men, women and children were murdered.” Israel added, “Without a firm response and in the absence of an international agreement, Assad will feel emboldened to continue gassing people.”
In a parenthetical chiding of the Kremlin, Israel urged Russians to watch videos of the aftermath of the Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus “if your government allows you access.”
Such videos have been freely accessible even as Putin, the Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov and other top officials insist that the Syrian opposition was responsible for the chemical attack last month. Senior Russian officials say Assad’s government has provided evidence that the rebels were to blame.
Israel said the international response to Syria would be noted by Hezbollah, Iran and North Korea, and he also directly answered Putin’s assertion that it was wrong for Obama to claim U.S. “exceptionalism.”
“As an American, I hold the exceptionalism of my country dear,” Israel wrote. “I also know of the many exceptional achievements our two countries made together, such as defeating Nazism and discovering Space. If your leaders are serious about truly creating a regimen to control and contain chemical weapons in Syria under international supervision in a transparent, verifiable and effective way, then we will be able to add this to the latest example of exceptional achievements partnered by our two nations. Your president has told the United States that he is interested in doing this. Now we await his words turning into deeds.”