McCain Criticizes Putin

OSHKOSH, Wisconsin -- In a blistering critique, U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain has accused President Vladimir Putin of preparing to lead a puppet government.

The Arizona senator, long critical of Putin, had harsh words for the president as he prepares to give up the Kremlin to a hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and then take on the post of prime minister.

"I think that Mr. Putin is trying to restore the old Russian empire. Obviously he is perpetuating himself in power in Russia virtually indefinitely by this setup of having basically a protege, someone who is doing his bidding as president while he serves as the prime minister," McCain said Friday.

"We knew the puppet show was going on, we just didn't know who the puppet was," he said.

McCain, who was asked about the state of affairs in Russia during a town-hall meeting, is seeking the Republican Party's nomination to face the Democrats' choice in November's election to succeed President George W. Bush. McCain said he was concerned about Russia but not worried about a resurgent Russian empire. "I'm not concerned that we will see a re-ignition of the old Cold War. Russia doesn't have the assets or the capability or anything else to pose the kind of challenge" that it did during the days of the Soviet Union, he said. McCain said Russia was blocking U.S. efforts to contain Iran and help in the Darfur region of Sudan.