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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

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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