By Guy Dinmore
The Financial Times - UK
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration on Tuesday came under pressure from Congress and rightwing supporters to punish Russian president Vladimir Putin for what Senator John McCain denounced as Russia's slide towards "neo-imperialism abroad and authoritarian control at home".
Mr McCain, the outspoken senator who lost a bitter nomination battle for the Republican presidential candidacy in 2000, said George W. Bush should not invite Mr Putin to the next summit of the Group of Eight industrialised democracies, to be hosted by the US next June. Loan guarantees should also be halted, he said.
"A creeping coup against the forces of democracy and market capitalism in Russia is threatening the foundation of the US- Russia relationship and raising the spectre of a new era of cold peace between Washington and Moscow," he warned.
His speech was the first public show of force by conservatives in reaction to the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of Yukos, the Russian oil company.
So far, the Bush administration's response has been muted. A senior State Department official on Tuesday told reporters the US did not want to "jump to conclusions" over the cases against three of Russia's leading businessmen, although it did view them as politically motivated. He said there had been "pointed" high-level conversations with Russian officials.
Mr McCain spoke of a crackdown on the media, assassinations of journalists and activists, and deaths of thousands of civilians in Chechnya. He also said "credible allegations" remained that the Russian FSB secret services had a hand in the 1999 bombings of Moscow apartment blocks that were blamed on rebels and led to a renewed military campaign in Chechnya in 2000.