Putin "doesn't believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies," McCain wrote in a commentary published by Pravda Thursday. "Or, at least, he doesn't believe Russians can. So he rules by using those weaknesses, by corruption, repression and violence. He rules for himself, not you."
McCain said he isn't "anti-Russian" as he has been portrayed in Russian media.
"I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today," McCain wrote. "I make that claim because I respect your dignity and your right to self-determination. I believe you should live according to the dictates of your conscience, not your government."
Putin and his associates don't respect Russians' dignity or the authority Russians have over them, McCain said.
"They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance," he said. "To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption."
He said Putin's efforts to restore Russia to greatness at home and abroad haven't worked. At home, he's saddled the country with an economy based "almost entirely" on a few natural resources that won't last -- and which are "mostly in the possession of the corrupt and powerful few."
On the global stage, Putin has aligned Russia "with some of the world's most offensive and threatening tyrannies," including Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime is accused of killing tens of thousands of Syrians to remain in power.
Because Russia has blocked the United Nations "from even condemning its [the Assad regime's] atrocities," Putin isn't enhancing Russia's global reputation but is "destroying it," McCain said.
"He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world," he said.
McCain said he believes in Russians' capacity for self-government and their desire for justice and opportunity.
"When I criticize your government, it is not because I am anti-Russian," McCain said in closing. "It is because I believe you deserve a government that believes in you and answers to you."