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New U.S. Ambassador To Russia Gets Frosty Reception

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) gives the oath of office to ambassador-designate to Russia Mike McFaul in Washington on January 10.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) gives the oath of office to ambassador-designate to Russia Mike McFaul in Washington on January 10.
In a program aired late on January 17, Russia's state-owned Channel One accused the new U.S. ambassador, Michael McFaul, of being deployed to sow instability in the country.

In a primetime broadcast of the analytical program "Odnako," (However), host Mikhail Leontyev referred to McFaul as one of the architects of U.S. President Barack Obama's "reset" policy with Russia. But he added that the new U.S. ambassador also had a clandestine agenda to help and support Russians opposed to the Kremlin.

"McFaul is not a specialist on Russia," Leontyev said. "He is a specialist on democracy promotion, pure and simple." McFaul is widely considered to be one of the foremost U.S. experts on Russia.

The report also linked opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny to McFaul and the U.S. intelligence services. It also played up Navalny's right wing sympathies, dubbing him the "Internet-fuehrer."

"In 1992, he [McFaul] was the representative in Russia of the National Democratic Institute, which is known for being close to the American secret services and which 'prepares political leaders for the countries of the Third World.],'" Leontyev said.

"And in 2010, Internet-fuehrer Aleksei Navalny, the leader of a new generation of 'democrats' and also a close acquaintance of McFaul, graduated from this program at Yale."

The National Democratic Institute is a U.S.-based NGO that supports democratic institutions and processes. It receives funding from various U.S. government agencies, 17 other governments, the European Union, and numerous private foundations. It has no known connection to the U.S. intelligence community.

No 'Pluralism' Allowed

Lasting nearly five minutes, the broadcast aired hours after McFaul and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with civil society leaders and opposition politicians.

Among them were environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova, Transparency International head Yelena Panfilova, and Oksana Dmitriyeva of the center-left party A Just Russia.

Chirikova wrote on Twitter that she was filmed leaving the U.S. Embassy by activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.

The new ambassador also met with senior government officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 16. McFaul has said his meetings with the opposition are justified and reflect his policy of "dual-track engagement" with both government and civil society leaders.

In a video, in which he says he is "very excited" to be returning to Russia, McFaul says: "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."

The Channel One report noted that the last time that an ambassador to Moscow was selected who was not a career diplomat was when President George H.W. Bush named Robert Strauss as his envoy to the U.S.S.R. This, Leontyev said, "was supposed to serve [to facilitate] the collapse of the Soviet Union. A typical detail."

McFaul responded to Leontyev's report on Twitter late on January 17, noting that the program included "no word about the three years of 'reset.'" His tweet added that the January 16 meetings with Kremlin and government officials "could not have been warmer. Pluralism!"

The January 17 broadcast followed a series of allegations levied against the United States by Russian officials. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suggested that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was behind the antigovernment protests that followed the disputed December 4 parliamentary elections.

And Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on January 17 that space officials are investigating the possibility that a Russian space probe destined for a moon of Mars veered off course and crashed due to interference from U.S. radars.

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