Washington’s controversial ambassador to Moscow was forced to defend himself through Twitter on Tuesday after the Russian foreign ministry furiously condemned a speech he made as shocking.
Ambassador Michael McFaul — a top former foreign policy aide ofPresident Barack Obama who arrived in Russia in January — became the talk of state television this weekend for reportedly accusing the Kremlin of once trying to bribe Kyrgyzstan to close down a US base that has irritated Russia.
State television reported that McFaul had told a group of students at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in a May 25 speech that Russia offered the former Soviet republic a massive loan to shut the base, whose presence in Central Asia has irritated Moscow.
He also reportedly criticised RT, Russia’s state-run foreign-language television station, and accused Moscow of tying its backing of US foreign policy positions to less criticism of its human rights record.
The Russian foreign ministry on Monday issued a formal statement expressing “utmost puzzlement” at what McFaul said.
“This is not the first time that the words and deeds of Mr McFaul, who holds such a responsible position, prompt shock,” the statement said.
The former Stanford University professor had by Tuesday morning tweeted more than half a dozen times about the incident and even posted bullet points from the speech.
“Still learning the craft of speaking more diplomatically,” said McFaul’s fist message.
“My HSE talk highlighted over 20 positive results of ‘reset,’ that our governments worked together to achieve,” he added more defensively about three hours later.
McFaul worked for the National Security Council when Obama had attempted to “reset” ties with Russia when the Kremlin was held by Dmitry Medvedev — a man viewed by Washington as a more open champion of liberal reforms.
Obama’s appointment of McFaul courted controversy in Russia even before he met leaders of protests against President Vladimir Putin less than 48 hours after stepping off his Moscow-bound plane.
The keen Kremlinologist and fluent Russian speaker is known in Moscow as the man who promoted the pro-Western “colour revolutions” that swept ex-Soviet nations in the past 10 years.
He had also vowed to make addressing Russia’s record on human rights one of his top priorities during his US Senate confirmation hearings.