The Russian Foreign Ministry has launched one of the most extraordinary tirades in the history of online diplomacy, using its Twitter feed to lambast the US Ambassador to the country as “unprofessional” in a barrage of furious tweets.
“The Foreign Ministry is utterly shocked at US Ambassador Michael McFaul's remarks,” ran the first tweet, referring to a speech given by Mr McFaul to a group of students this week. The speech was mainly aimed at touting the results of Barack Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, but the ministry took offence at suggestions that Russia had bribed Kyrgyzstan to close a US airbase in the country.
“This is not the first time that Mr McFaul's statements and actions have been a cause for concern,” fumed the Foreign Ministry. “Ambassadors’ job, as we understand it, is to improve bilateral ties, not to spread blatant falsehoods through the mediasphere.”
Mr McFaul, who took up his ambassadorial post less than five months ago, has had a baptism of fire since arriving in Moscow. A career academic, he promised a more open brand of diplomacy, posting a smiley video on YouTube about his family, background, and love for Russia, and frequently interacting with ordinary Russians through his Twitter feed.
Meetings with the Russian opposition have annoyed the Kremlin, however, and he was accused by Russian state television of being dispatched to Moscow to foment a revolution. He was followed around by television crews who mysteriously knew his every move, prompting the Embassy to suspect that someone was leaking his personal schedule. Confronted by a female reporter on the street recently, he finally exploded, shouting that Russia was a “wild country” and that harassing ambassadors was a breach of diplomatic convention. He later apologised and said he had mispoken.
The television attacks appear to have been called off, and the hope among US diplomats was that the outburst of anti-Americanism was pre-election bluster to accompany the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.
Now, however, the Foreign Ministry has stepped in, and the feeling is that such heartfelt criticism of the US Ambassador must have been sanctioned from the top. In response, Mr McFaul tweeted slides of his speech, and sent a riposte back to the Foreign Ministry: “[My] talk highlighted over 20 positive results of "reset," that our governments worked together to achieve.” To a Russian journalist who had first brought the ministry’s furious reaction to Mr McFaul’s attention, he tweeted somewhat balefully: “Thank you for this information. Still learning the craft of speaking more diplomatically.”