Michael McFaul's appointment as US ambassador to Russia was
expected to be a home run, but he has ruffled feathers and the
Kremlin is lashing out.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took personal aim at US
ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul today, charging that his remarks
to a Russian news agency about US missile defense policy were
"arrogant," and that as an envoy to a foreign country Mr. McFaul
ought to know better.
Mr. Lavrov's tongue-lashing of the freshman ambassador, though
unusual, might be overlooked as part of the widening circle of
acrimony between the US and Russia over missile defense if it were
an isolated example.
But since taking up his new post in January, McFaul has found
himself at the center of a roiling controversy, accused in the
Russian media of conspiring with opposition leaders, his footsteps
dogged by a major state-run Russian TV network that seems intent on
convincing its viewers that the US ambassador is the main financial
backer and key organizer of the pro-democracy protest movement that
erupted after allegedly fraud-tainted Duma elections last December.
Last week McFaul went so far as to hint on his public Twitter
account that his phone and e-mail accounts were being hacked by the
NTV network, which is owned by state-run Gazprom-Media. He accused
the network of knowing his every move, and bringing not only
journalists but also "uniformed people" to harass him everywhere he
The State Department backed him up. "There's been a number of
incidents since (McFaul's) arrival there that have caused us to have
some concerns about his security and safety," State Department
spokesman Mark Toner said on March 30. "So as we would in following
normal protocol, we've raised that with the government of Russia."
McFaul would seem an strange target for what appears to be
growing Kremlin ire. As the White House's chief Russia adviser over
the past three years, he is the main architect of the "reset" of
relations, which returned Moscow-Washington ties to a normal
business footing after several years of deep chill under former
President George W. Bush.
McFaul is an old Russia hand who has spent years living and
working there, where he is said to have many friends from all walks
of life. The ambassador came in with a remarkably open style,
including extensive use of Twitter, Facebook and his own blog in
Russian to publicize his activities.
He is also well known for an upbeat view on Russia, and
frequently wishes the country well in his public statements.
But, as previous ambassadors and visiting US officials have
routinely done, he held a meeting with Russian opposition and civil
society activists early in his first week on the job. That sparked
an unexpected explosion of controversy.
"US representatives are acting in an incredibly cynical manner,"
pro-Kremlin deputy Andrei Isayev alleged in the Duma. "This concerns
both the embassy meeting, and the very fact that McFaul, who
specializes in 'orange revolutions,' has been appointed as US
ambassador to Russia," a reference to McFaul's past academic work,
which dealt with pro-democracy movements in South Africa and the
former Soviet Union.
"There's a lot that McFaul has written and said in his long
career, which has been closely tied to Russia, that indicates he
wishes the best for this country and its people; he wants Russia to
evolve into a modern democracy and to prosper," says Masha Lipman,
editor of the Moscow Carnegie Center's Pro et Contra journal. …