Russia’s harassment of U.S. Ambassador McFaul

Lavrov, McFaul, and Medvedev. Note which one isn't smiling

Today’s Moscow Times reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took a swipe at U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul about McFaul’s “arrogant” comments regarding missile defense:

“Yesterday our colleague, the U.S. ambassador, arrogantly announced there will be no changes on missile defense, even though it would seem that an ambassador … should understand it is necessary to take the interests of the state in question into account.”

What McFaul actually said was a little different, as the Moscow report noted:

McFaul had said the United States would press ahead with the creation of a European anti-missile shield capable of protecting the United States and its NATO allies and would not place limits on its potential development. McFaul’s remarks were in line with previous statements by the United States.

This isn’t really about missile defense; it’s about Ambassador McFaul, who has been annoying the Putin regime mightily  by doing things like meeting with representatives of Russian human rights groups — in other words, by acting like Russia is actually an open society.

Russian protesters. This would probably scare Putin more if he'd seen the movie.

The Putinistas have responded by having journalists dogging McFaul around Moscow, which the ambassador claims is only possible because the Russians have hacked his email and cell phone. This has led the Obama administration to complain to the Kremlin about McFaul’s personal security, which is endangered if his schedule is being hacked and released.

McFaul is well-known to Russia experts; he’s been teaching at Stanford for years, and is the author of some of the best work done since 1991 on post-Soviet democratic development. This in itself cheeses off the Russian regime,  which almost certainly doesn’t like having someone around who knows Russia and its democratic opposition as well as McFaul does.

They also probably don’t like that McFaul can ream out his hecklers in fluent Russian, either. Personally, I thought it was fabulous, especially since most Russians still find it gratifying to find Westerners who have taken the time to learn their language, and who no doubt admire someone who can tell off snarky Russian journos in their mother tongue.

“Your ambassador in our country always goes around without this disrupting his work,” McFaul said. “Yet you’re always at my house. That’s interesting. Aren’t you ashamed?”

McFaul is also the first Information Age ambassador the Russians have had to deal with; he’s a constant presence on Twitter, which is sure to drive the Putin regime crazy after getting a good look at how ordinary Russians are using social media to facilitate communication and protest among themselves. (Just like in other places — say, the Middle East, for example.)

As The Christian Science Monitor noted earlier today, McFaul is a “strange target” for the Kremlin’s ire, since he as the main architect of President Obama’s attempted “reset”with Russia. Whether the “reset” was worth doing, or whether the administration did it competently, is another matter. But McFaul has clearly been an advocate of better relations with Moscow, which makes his harassment not only undiplomatic, but stupid.

I’ve been an advocate of closer relations with Russia for twenty years (which is one of the reasons I followed McFaul’s academic work closely), and I don’t think any U.S. Ambassador should spend every waking moment trying to annoy the Russians. Those days, at least on our side, are long over. But if the Russian government is going to act like a cabal of Soviet thugs, then the role of our ambassador is to represent our interests and our values.

The Russian high road in diplomacy.

And one final note. On what planet can Sergei Lavrov — Putin’s emissary, and worse, friend and defender of the murderous Syrian regime — try to claim the moral upper hand on McFaul?

“Arrogant?” This, from the chief diplomat of a regime that constantly tries to intimidate its neighbors and incite groundless fears among America’s NATO allies?

There’s a Russian word for that kind of behavior: naglost’, which roughly translates as “effrontery.” But it’s better summed up by a well-known Yiddish word: chutzpah.

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One comment

  1. Curious that he said that in light of certain tape recorded remarks possibly being misinterpreted, if at least there is the comfort of knowing that Ivan has a streak that’s easy enough to remember.