Republican John McCain didn't let up today on the heat on Russia and its former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin for the incursion into neighboring Georgia.
Even though Russia said today that it is halting its offensive, Georgia says that shelling is still going on, and McCain said "the situation remains fluid and dangerous."
Campaigning in York, Pa., McCain said that Russia intended to "send a signal" to any neighboring country that wants to ally with West.
"The impact of Russian actions goes beyond their threat to a democratic Georgia. Russia has used violence against Georgia to send a signal to any country that chooses to associate with the West and aspire to our shared political and economic values. My friends, we learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. With our allies, we must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to withdraw its troops from Georgia."
The United States should stand with the democratic government in Georgia, he said, adding that he had offered Americans' prayers and thoughts in a conversation with Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.
"He knows that the thoughts and the prayers and support of the American people are with that brave little nation as they struggle today for their freedom and independence. And he wanted me to say thank you to you, to give you his heartfelt thanks for the support of the American people for this tiny little democracy far away from the United States of America. And I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, ' Today, we are all Georgians,' " McCain declared.
UPDATE: At a huge outdoor rally tonight in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Saakashvili mentioned what McCain had said about American support, and the crowd applauded.
Democrat Barack Obama also issued another statement through his campaign: "Now is the time for action – not just words. It is past time for the Russian government to immediately sign and implement a cease-fire. Russia must halt its violation of Georgian airspace and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia, with international monitors to verify that these obligations are met.”
McCain has long been more strident on Russia than President Bush. Bush once said he looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul as a "straightforward and trustworthy" man, McCain likes to say: "I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes and I saw three things -- a K and a G and a B."
"I don’t think there’s any doubt who is still by far the most powerful and influential person in Russia,” McCain told WITF radio in Harrisburg, Pa., saying that Putin has “personal control” of the military.
“Of course we have to deal with Russia and we deal with Putin,” McCain said. “But it has to be on a very realistic basis. And not one that there’s any illusions about his ambitions.”
And those ambitions including restoring Russia's czarist prominence. “I think it’s very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire,” he said in the radio interview. “Not the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire.”
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.