Today’s Moscow News quotes Senator John McCain as warning Putin that he could meet Gaddafi’s fate. I was so shocked by such an incendiary remark from a former presidential candidate that I checked out the alleged threat on McCain’s Twitter feed. Sure enough, yesterday McCain tweeted, “Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you.” Later (presumably after this Moscow News article appeared), he tweeted again, “The Post agrees: ‘Spring is in the Russian air’” with a link to a Washington Post article reporting on demonstrations by Russians opposed to Putin.
Another McCain tweet had a link to a BBC tweet, that stated “@SenJohnMcCain is no fan of Putin’s Russia: ‘We have an obligation to speak up when we see evil prevailing in the world’ he tells us.” Further searching led me to an October Businessweek article that said:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other “dictators” may be “nervous” after the death of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, U.S. Senator John McCain said. “I think dictators all over the world, including Bashar al-Assad, maybe even Mr. Putin, maybe some Chinese, maybe all of them, may be a little bit more nervous,” McCain said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. late yesterday. “It’s the spring, not just the Arab spring.” Qaddafi was killed yesterday after an eight-month armed conflict that left thousands dead.
These comments by McCain helped me better understand an earlier, March 29 article in Mir Novosti, that quoted General Leonid Ivashov as saying:
I have no doubts that our people, like Libyans did, will demand changing the degradation course for a development course, and that it will ask the current authorities to quit. However, when that moment comes, they will hardly bomb Russia as they are currently bombing Libya. … The availability of nuclear weapons in this country is a factor that, in case of possible public protests, may cause international concern. International community may want to take control of our nuclear weapons under the pretext of the need to eliminate unsanctioned use. For that NATO forces may penetrate our territory and take control of our most important infrastructure facilities.
While the translation is a bit shaky, it still highlights the risk inherent in our exceeding the UN resolution’s mandate to protect Libyan civilians and going instead for regime change. Mr. McCain’s threatening Putin adds to that risk in a significant way.
Martin Hellman is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and Professor Emeritus at Stanford University. His current project applies risk analysis to nuclear deterrence, and is described in detail at NuclearRisk.org.