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Russia: Obama's McFaul Sworn in as U.S. Ambassador

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

President Obama's closest adviser on affairs of state of the Former Soviet Union and architect of the ‘reset’ between the United States and Russia, Michael McFaul, has officially replaced President Bush's nomination as the United States’ Ambassador to Russia. A Stanford University professor, Ambassador McFaul has published several works which discuss the process of democratization.

Despite an overt effort made by McFaul to open a dialogue with the Russian people through citizen media outlets, the Russian-language blogosphere has reacted to his appointment with skepticism – asserting that he's come to Russia with an agenda to incite ‘revolution'.

Robert Amsterdam Blog contextualized Ambassador McFaul's appointment amid ongoing tensions between Russia and the United States:

Washington’s new ambassador to Russia, reset-architect Michael McFaul, was sworn in on Tuesday. US-Russia relations have certainly taken a bit of a beating of late. In December, Hillary Clinton faced verbal excoriation from Vladimir Putin for her stance on the protest movement. In addition to this, missile defense remains unresolved, the situation in Syria is a nexus of East/West disagreement, and despite some flexibility in its verbal stance on Iran, Moscow remains resolute in opposing sanctions. So how will McFaul, who was a special assistant to the President on Russian and Eurasian affairs, fare on his Russian ‘adventure’ as Clinton puts it? Many have taken the nomination of the Stanford Professor as a sign that Obama is committed to re-galvanising the reset.

A RussiaProfile.org article, written by Dan Peleschuk, was then quoted in an effort to assess Mr. McFaul's credentials:

[...] McFaul has amassed a wealth of contacts and built solid relationships with his Russian counterparts. Having spent sporadic periods living, studying and working in both the Soviet Union and Russia, he has firsthand experience in building workable contacts with top political players in Russia throughout the past 20 years. McFaul is so familiar and respected in Russian circles that when Obama informed President Dmitry Medvedev of his selection last year, Clinton said, the Russian president reportedly answered, “Of course. He’s a tough negotiator.”

Secretary Clinton Holds a Swearing-In Ceremony for Ambassador-Designate McFaul. (Source: Flickr account of the U.S. Department of State; License: United States Government Work.)

As part of an organised social media campaign to acquaint himself with the Russian people, Ambassador McFaul announced via his Twitter account that he'd officially been sworn in:

It's official. I've been sworn-in as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. On to the next adventure! http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid754802042001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAAAGWqYgE~,KxHPzbPALrGIxpNl8Q_zt_wx9HBY68Ck&bctid=1381692846001

The tweet included a link to a YouTube video where Ambassador McFaul introduced himself to the Russian people. The Cable Foreign Policy blog posted a transcript of the video, which was spoken in English with Russian subtitles:

My name is Michael McFaul. I'm very excited to be returning to your great country. I grew up here, in the state of Montana, or ‘the regions’ as you would say in Russia. But even as a boy in Montana I developed an interest in U.S.-Soviet relations, and in particular, in the simple idea that more direct communication with the Soviets could make us and the world more secure. [...]

I've worked closely with President Obama since the first day of his administration to develop the relationship between the United States and Russia based on our mutual interest and mutual respect for one another. The president called for a reset with Russia, animated by the belief that greater engagement could produce security and economic benefits for both of our countries.

The most important part of my job will be to foster more contact between the people of the United States and the people of Russia. I'm interested in not only meeting government officials, but people from other political parties and movements, businessmen and women, civil society activists, and regular Russians just like you.

(In Russian) I'm inviting Russians to contact me directly on Twitter and Facebook. Goodbye for now, I will see you again soon.

This video sparked discussion as it spread rapidly across the Russian-language internet.

One Russian-language LJ blog alluded [ru] to Ambassador McFaul's reputation as being an instigator of revolution, scoffed at Ambassador McFaul's call for an open dialogue with the Russian people using citizen media, and suggested that his arrival in Russia was well-timed in that it preceded the presidential elections that will be held this spring:

[...] So we've now seen today's arrival in Moscow of the new U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul , a recognized architect and the practician of “color revolutions” in the former Soviet Union. He's already got himself a Twitter account for [virtual] acquaintance with the “Dear Russians” and left a video message in which he stated that he was “glad to be back in a great country.” McFaul arrived “just in time” – Feb. 4 is ahead of us [the date for which the next opposition rally is scheduled], and then pretty soon there will be March 4 [the day of the presidential election in Russia]. The new ambassador of the Good Empire brought $50 million of the first tranche allocated by the U.S. administration “to promote democracy in Russia.” As they say, welcome to Russia!

Another blogger discussed [ru] more in depth how the Russian people have perceived Ambassador McFaul over time:

[...] He was indeed interested in his youth in the Soviet-American relations, but when he grew up he wanted to be an Africanist and he wrote his dissertation on the revolution in southern Africa (Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa). In the spring of 1988, he came to Moscow to interview Soviet experts, to ask them about the Soviet role in African affairs. A researcher at the Institute of African Studies, Tatiana Kras, realizing that the American student was genuinely fascinated by the theme of revolution, brutally ridiculed the choice of objects of study: Why study the past of Zimbabwe, when a revolution is taking place in the world's largest country right before the researcher's eyes? [...]

In a comment to the post quoted above, one Russian blogger – LJ user rogatkina_ezhik – affectionately likened [ru] Ambassador McFaul to another American who attempted to ‘reset’ the US-Russian relations and who, in turn, also sparked controversy both at home and abroad:

He has aged and matured. I listened to his report at the Harriman Institute in 1998. He had wheat blonde colored hair, with a very pleasant manner of speaking. In Washington, friends said, “This is our rising star, like a young Kennedy.”

It's good that he had spent time in Russia and is friendly.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

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