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McCain Fundraising Chair Praised Putin As "Patriot"

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Cindy McCain is heading to London for a $25,000 per-person fundraiser this week in a trip that will end a tour to promote charitable causes. The affair is expected to raise more than $500,000 for her husband's campaign, according to the Associated Press, with a who's who of dignitaries, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, expected to be in attendance.

But McCain's fundraiser could come with a cost. Co-hosting the event is Charles Ryan, a member of the Senator's London Finance Committee, the CEO of Deutsche Bank Russia and an individual with strong ties to former Russian leader Vladimir Putin and business links to Iran.

A founder of the Russian investment bank United Financial Group, Ryan has often taken public positions in support of Putin that put him at odds with the U.S. candidate he now supports.

In 2004, Ryan asserted that the problem with Russia was "not that the state is too powerful and that it is using excess authority and power to intervene in everyone's lives... The real problem is that it is too weak." Two years later, he took to the oped pages of the International Herald Tribune to argue that: "it is worrying to see the extent to which misconceptions about Russia's role in the world over the past decade have been reinforced in the run-up to the G-8 summit meeting in St. Petersburg." A year later, Ryan called the incumbent Russian leader a "patriot," made it clear that the presidency was "the sole legitimate institute" in the country, and, while saying he was not enthusiastic with the idea of Putin amending the constitution to retain power, offered that only "mild changes" were needed in Russia politics.

Such positions contrast greatly with what has become conventional political wisdom in the United States during the past eight year. Even McCain has said that Putin deserves "harsh treatment" for its recent anti-democratic developments.

"Russia is probably the greatest disappointment in recent years," said the Senator in May 2007, months before Ryan praised Putin as a patriot. "It has turned into a KGB oligarchy. [President Vladimir] Putin wants to restore the days of the old Russian empire, and he continues to repress democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press. Mysterious assassinations are even taking place. If oil were still $10 a barrel, Mr. Putin would not pose any kind of a threat. I do not believe you will see a reigniting of the Cold War. But I do believe that Putin and his cadre of KGB friends are causing us great difficulties in a variety of ways, including a failure to assist us in trying to rein in Iranian nuclear ambitions."

Politics aside, Ryan's financial associations in Russia are also a bit thorny for McCain's campaign. One of Ryan's partners at UFG, Boris Fyodorov, currently holds a seat on the board of directors of Russian energy giant Gazprom (Ryan, too, has been nominated for the board according to press reports). The state controlled gas producer has had, according to the New York Times, a "revolving door" with the Kremlin, in addition to business ties with Iran. In February 2008, Reuters reported the company had agreed to "take on big new energy projects in Iran, a move likely to anger the United States which wants Tehran isolated over its nuclear work." The connections are tangential. But for McCain, who has made divestment and isolation of Iran a major campaign focus, it could muddle the message.

Ryan is actually the second surrogate to the Arizonan with politically questionable ties to the Russian government. In January 2008, the Washington Post reported that "a top political adviser in Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign helped arrange an introduction in 2006 between McCain and a Russian billionaire whose suspected links to anti-democratic and organized-crime figures are so controversial that the U.S. government revoked his visa."

That aide was campaign manager Rick Davis who "helped set up the encounter between McCain and Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska in Switzerland during an international economic conference. At the time, Davis was working for a lobbying firm and seeking to do business with the billionaire."

Aides to McCain said: "Any contact between Mr. Deripaska and the senator was social and incidental."

On another note, Cindy McCain's fundraiser marks the third time in the last few months that an overseas event for the Senator has raised political questions. In March, a McCain fundraiser in London brought rebukes from Democrats because it came on the taxpayer dime. Last week, a speech by the Senator in Canada was questioned as a possible violation of the Hatch Act because of arrangements made by the Canadian Ambassador.