First, he asked Russians en masse to adopt his harshly critical view of Russia: that the country is economically weak and internationally isolated, that “its riches will not last” and that Russia’s “global reputation” is poor. Pause for a moment and imagine how you’d feel if you read an opinion column by a Russian legislator, in which he spoke directly to you and told you that your country is not very respected or successful, that it’s doing poorly and destined for worse. Now imagine that, like many Russians, you’ve felt condescended to and lectured by snooty Americans for your entire life. Would you be more or less predisposed to hearing him out?
Fisher’s entirely right that the op-ed won’t appeal to a Russian audience, and the reasons he gives make sense, but then I don’t think McCain was all that interested in winning Russian readers over to his view. Even on those issues where many, if not most, Russians might agree with McCain regarding corruption or the rule of law, McCain isn’t likely to persuade anyone to listen to him because most people in every country don’t want foreign politicians lecturing them on their country’s flaws and mistakes. This is incidentally why many Americans reacted so negatively to Putin’s op-ed.
McCain’s main audience for his op-ed is in the West. This is why he spent so much time on disputing the claim that he was an “anti-Russian politician,” which he did by rattling off criticisms of the Russian government. If there’s anything more annoying than a foreigner lecturing people on the flaws of their country, it has to be the presumption that the foreigner knows their country’s true interests better than they do. This message wasn’t aimed at persuading skeptical Russians that a famous Russophobe is actually their friend, but rather to reinforce the idea among Westerners that one can promote what most Russians would perceive as anti-Russian policies while still being in some sense “pro-Russian.” This is similar to the view of Iran hawks that they can support inflicting enormous suffering on the Iranian people with policies most Iranians reject while nonetheless being “on their side” against their own government. It’s not an accident or an oversight that this conveys an extremely condescending and insulting attitude to the country in question. It is part and parcel of the worldview McCain holds, according to which he and those like him know better than the people who live in another country what is best for them.