(CNN) – The time for gentle diplomacy with Russia's President Vladimir Putin has passed, Sen. John McCain asserted in an interview Tuesday.
Calling the Russian leader an "old KGB colonel apparatchik that dreams of the days of the Russian empire," McCain said on CNN's "New Day" the U.S. should take a tougher position with Putin, who has also opposed western plans to arm rebels battling Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
"We've got to start dealing with Vladimir Putin in a realistic fashion," McCain told Chris Cuomo.
The most recent break in the U.S.-Russia relationship came Sunday, when it's believed NSA leaker Edward Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow as he avoids apprehension on U.S. espionage charges.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed at a news conference Tuesday his country has "nothing to do with Mr. Snowden, or his movements around the world," and that accusations against Russia over harboring Snowden are "absolutely groundless and unacceptable."
Those remarks did little to placate McCain, who countered it was "well known" that Snowden is in Russia.
"It's reminiscent of the days of the Cold War when you hear a Russian spokesman saying that he's not in Russia, when every shred of evidence indicates that he is," said the Arizona Republican and 2008 GOP presidential nominee, who also faulted President Barack Obama for not taking a firmer line with Russia on Syria and Iran.
"When you withdraw to fortress America, when you believe in light footprints, when you show the world you're leading from behind, these are the consequences of American leadership," McCain said, adding "That does not mean confrontation, but steadfast adherence to the principles many presidents since the Cold War and before have stood for that the rest of the world will respect."
As for Putin, McCain said there were deeper problems entrenched in the Russian leader's outlook on the world.
Putin "has disdain for democracy and the things we stand for and believe in," McCain said, before referencing the allegation from last week that Putin stole a Super Bowl ring from the owner of the New England Patriots (Putin's spokesman later said it was a gift).
"If he sees a situation he'll take advantage of it. Anybody that takes somebody's Super Bowl ring has got to be not exactly like us," he said.