U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has spoken of the current state of bilateral relations, the upcoming Sochi Olympics, and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service.
McFaul, speaking at RFE/RL's Moscow Bureau, quashed rumors of a possible U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics. He confirmed the United States will send a presidential delegation to the opening ceremonies in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi in February, but said it has not been decided yet who will lead that delegation.
"There will be a presidential delegation, which means that there will be no boycotts whatsoever from our government. Other countries have their own approaches, but the U.S. will send its official presidential delegation. As to who will head the delegation, it has not been decided yet," McFaul said.
Earlier this month, French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck announced they will not go to Sochi for the opening ceremonies. The decisions were interpreted as protests against Russia's human rights record and an internationally criticized law passed earlier this year that bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors, seen as discriminatory against the country's gay population.
Turning to the situation in Ukraine, where tens of thousands of pro-EU protesters have taken to the streets for the past three weeks in protest at President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign a pact on closer ties with the EU, McFaul said it is up to Ukrainians to decide whether to move closer to the EU or to Russia.
"We believe we share [with Russia] a number of common interests in this. First, it's a peaceful process. Second, a democratic process. How to handle it all, in which framework, it is up to Ukrainians to decide," McFaul said.
"But we must support those two principles. It is not good for Europe, it is not good for America, and neither -- we believe -- is it good for Russia to have an economic crisis or a default in Ukraine. Thus, again we share an interest on this matter as well."
McFaul also spoke about the current state of U.S.-Russian relations, seen as rocky amid disagreements over a European missile-defense shield, a ban on American adoptions of Russian children, and the imposition of visa bans and asset freezes on 18 Russians implicated in human rights violations and the death in custody of a Russian lawyer.
Despite the disagreements, McFaul characterized the relationship in mostly positive terms.
"I have a feeling that American-Russian relations have reached the level of some sort of mutual understanding where we can strictly disagree on some issues and at the same time cooperate on other ones," McFaul said.
"Most probably it would have worked before, but now we can achieve such agreements. It is because we know each other well. Maybe I am a big optimist -- and, indeed, I am -- but this is my feeling right now."
Talking about the adoption ban, McFaul called it Moscow's "inadequate response" to the Magnitsky Bill passed by lawmakers in Washington.
"In the course of the two years that I have been here in the capacity of ambassador, this has been the most difficult issue of all. No doubt about that. We have a very clear position: Two completely unrelated issues should not be mixed together," McFaul said.
"For us, children and the Magnitsky List are exactly the case where these two issues have nothing to do with each other. [The Russian] response has been inadequate."
The U.S. Senate passed the law known as the Magnitsky Bill in December 2012. The law imposed sanctions on Russians who violate human rights. Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian whistle-blowing lawyer who was abused in custody and died in prison in 2009. The law targeted not only those tied to Magnitsky's death but also those allegedly involved in other abuses.
The Russian law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans was seen as a tit-for-tat response to the Magnitsky Bill.