Michael McFaul

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Nemtsova

A diplomat with a big mouth--and a big mission.

It's a turbulent moment to be Washington's Man in Russia, where protests against Vladimir Putin are rocking the country with a level of turmoil not seen since the days of the Soviet collapse. In January the Obama administration parachuted in new ambassador Michael McFaul, an earnest Stanford academic who has admitted that he's "still learning the craft of speaking more diplomatically." He's already provoked the Kremlin into tweeting about his "unprofessionalism," and he's winning fast friends among Russian activists for his unabashed opposition to authoritarian regimes.

It's unlikely that McFaul could have guessed how controversial his appointment would be back when he helped forge Obama's "reset" with Russia. The whole point of the policy was to defuse years of growing tensions between the White House and the Kremlin. The thaw appeared to be gaining momentum until Putin retook the presidency earlier this year, which set off massive Arab Spring-like protests in the capital. When McFaul took up his duties--as only the second noncareer diplomat to be appointed ambassador to Russia in 30 years--he found himself smack in the middle of an explosive situation. In his first month on the job, he was visited by pro-democracy activists; the meeting provoked an outcry in the state-backed media, which accused McFaul of conspiring with the opposition.

Since then the attacks on McFaul by Putin loyalists have only grown more incensed. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused him of spreading "blatant falsehoods," and McFaul has indicated that his phone and his email and Twitter accounts have been hacked. …