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Farewell, Ambassador McFaul

Published: February 19, 2014 (Issue # 1798)


Although Michael McFaul masterminded the reset between the U.S. and Russia, ushering in a welcome, albeit short-lived, period of warmer relations, his ambassadorship to Moscow was doomed from the start.

The sandy-haired Montana native fell right into the Kremlins anti-American propaganda trap during his first days on the job, and he never managed to pull himself out. Last week, McFaul announced that he was leaving after only two years in Russia to return to his old professorship at Stanford University.

McFaul arrived in Moscow only a month after the December 2011 protests that attracted tens of thousands of people in the largest anti-government demonstrations since August 1991.

For the Kremlin, the timing couldnt have been better. Instead of a standard, reserved career diplomat, McFaul was a public figure whose critical views on Russias democracy and human rights were well-known, given his track record as an author, television commentator and chief adviser on Russia to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Immediately, the Kremlin labeled McFauls pro-democracy positions as identical to those of Russias radical opposition, which was to say subversive. Notably, one of the main slogans at a large pro-Kremlin rally in Moscow on Feb. 4, 2012, two weeks after McFauls arrival, was No to the Orange plague! No to the U.S. Embassy!

State television seized on McFauls well-received 2002 book Russias Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin, claiming that the words Russias unfinished revolution provided clear evidence of McFauls subversive plans to overthrow the government of President Vladimir Putin. At first, the ridiculous distortion prompted laughter in the West. Then, it evoked indignation when the Kremlin crudely attempted to turn a respected scholar and Russia expert into a modern-day Che Guevara.

Throughout McFauls two years as ambassador, the Kremlin never stopped spinning the primitive myth that the U.S. sent McFaul to Russia to fund the opposition movement, turn street protests into million-man marches, and carry out an Orange-style revolution in the country.

Admittedly, McFaul made himself an easy target at times. He invited opposition leaders and human rights activists to a meeting on his second day on the job, on Jan. 17, 2012. The Kremlin spin machine went into overdrive, with state television reporting about the meeting in menacing tones. NTV, for example, ran a special program Receiving Instructions From the U.S. Embassy, in which journalists badgered opposition leaders on their way into and from the meeting with McFaul with questions like Why did you come here? What is your mission? The Kremlin conveniently ignored the fact that McFaul had met with senior government officials the day before, or that dual-track diplomacy meeting with both government officials and the opposition has been considered standard diplomatic practice all over the world for decades, including by Russian ambassadors in Washington.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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