McCain: Russia's Denials on Snowden Like Cold War

Sen. McCain: Snowden Scandal 'Reminiscent' of Cold War Era

Russia's assertion that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was never in that country is evocative of Cold War-type behavior, Sen. John McCain told CNBC on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier Tuesday that Snowden hadn't crossed his country's border—in response to Secretary of State John Kerry's urging of Moscow to "do the right thing" and turn him over to the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later said Snowden was still in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, was free to leave and should do so as soon as possible.

Officials in Ecuador—where Snowden was said to be seeking asylum—said they don't know where the former intelligence contractor was. Snowden fled from Hong Kong on Sunday.

"For the Russians to say he's not in the Moscow Airport, that's reminiscent of the 'good old days' of the Cold War, where any lie was sufficient for them," McCain told CNBC's "Squawk Box" before Putin's news conference.

McCain, who lost the the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama, called on the president to get tougher with Putin, saying he "continues to stick his thumb in our eye." He called Putin "an old KGB colonel apparatchik."

McCain said the U.S. should "reset our relations" with Russia and China. "I'm not sure exactly what immediate pressures we can put on them besides diplomatic," the Arizona Republican said.

Putin told a news conference during a visit to Finland that he hoped the affair would not affect relations with Washington, but indicated Moscow would not hand him over. He dismissed U.S. accusations against Russia over the case as "rubbish."

Highly critical of the Obama administration's foreign policy in general, McCain said the disrespect that China and Russia is showing the U.S. is the "wagers you pay" for "impotent" leadership.

"For five years now, we're sending a message that we're 'leading from behind,'" he said. "We don't act when we say that we're going to."

McCain has demanded tougher U.S. action against embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Sen. McCain Guardedly Optimistic About Immigration Bill

On immigration, McCain praised the Senate for advancing reform, which cleared a procedural hurdle Monday. A final vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate could come later this week, which would then move the issue to the GOP-controlled House.

McCain said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the measure's fate in the House, but acknowledged it's going to be a "tough slog" there.

"At least one thing that everyone agrees on, I think, is the status quo is unacceptable," he said, while imploring the business community for help in pressuring lawmakers to approve the immigration overhaul.

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC. Reuters and The Associated Press also contributed to this report.