John McCain has been perhaps the most vocal senator about U.S. policy in Eastern Europe this year. And all that talking has generated a catchy one-liner to describe how Americans should view Russia.
“Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” the Arizona Republican told Seth Meyers on his TV show Monday night.
This line has slowly become McCain’s go-to description of Russia since the country’s invasion of Ukraine began last month. The senator has used it to describe what he believes is the Russian economy’s dependence on natural-gas and crude-oil exports.
The comparison originates in part from an op-ed McCain wrote in The New York Times two days before his CNN appearance, according to a McCain spokesman. The Russian president’s “regime may appear imposing, but it is rotting inside,” McCain said. “His Russia is not a great power on par with America. It is a gas station run by a corrupt, autocratic regime.”
The concept of a masquerade entered the picture during McCain’s appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on March 16, following his trip to Ukraine. “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” he told anchor Candy Crowley. “It is a nation that’s really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy, and so economic sanctions are important.”
McCain’s usage of the description took off from there, as a search of a media-tracking service shows:
March 26, on the Senate floor: “Russia is now a gas station masquerading as a country. And once we get [liquefied natural gas] and other energy to the European countries, interest will dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate Vladimir Putin’s influence.”
March 30, on Bloomberg’s Political Capital: “You know, I’ve said — I thought it was a pretty good line — Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.”
April 13, on CBS’s Face the Nation: “They have a very fragile economy. It is the 13th largest. It’s a gas station masquerading as a country.”
April 17, in Moldova’s capital city of Chisinau: “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country — and I apologize for that, because actually it’s a mafia-run gas station masquerading as a country.”
Monday night’s mention is not likely to be the last. As the standoff between Russia and Ukraine continues, McCain, who just finished a tour of Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova, will keep “backseat presidenting” the tenuous situation. In the meantime, we’re going to call this one “McCaining.”