A frosty reception for new US ambassador to Russia


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The Independent Online

For a diplomat, Moscow remains one of the world's most prestigious postings, though the job often comes with a few unwelcome surprises – a recent British ambassador was pelted with eggs by pro-Kremlin youth activists.

The new US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, has not yet had any projectiles launched at him, but he was subjected to a heavy stream of invective on state television within 48 hours of starting work in what is perhaps one of the shortest diplomatic honeymoons in history.

Mr McFaul, a career Russia specialist who arrived in Moscow just six weeks before presidential elections in a political climate made tense by a sudden increase in the protest mood, has come under fire for meeting with the leaders of the opposition. Last week, on his second day after officially presenting his credentials and taking up the post, he met with several of the co-ordinators of the protest movement and the state media went into overdrive.

Journalists waited outside the embassy shouting questions at all those who went inside and a television report that evening claimed the opposition was "receiving instructions" from the US embassy. "Is it possible that Mr McFaul came to Russia to work in his specialty? That is, to finish the revolution?" the news anchor asked, referencing the ambassador's earlier speciality of studying democracy movements and revolutions.

In 2001, Mr McFaul wrote a book called Russia's Unfinished Revolution. Despite his previous job as Barack Obama's top Russia adviser, where he was a key architect of the "reset" in relations between the two countries, in the new climate of political tension Mr McFaul's previous work is disturbing the Russians.

There has long been a climate of suspicion around the activities of Western embassies in Moscow. Vladimir Putin has claimed foreign governments are intent on influencing Russia's internal politics. He has even said the mass protests in December were organised by the US.