Watch John McCain’s Take on Russia Become His Catchphrase

We’re going to call this one “McCaining.”

A demonstrator in a polar bear costume plays drums as Greenpeace supporters protest in Moscow on October 5, 2013, in support of 30 activists jailed by Russia after a protest against Arctic oil drilling.
National Journal
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Marina Koren
April 22, 2014, 10:22 a.m.

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.”

Contributions by Reena Flores