Although US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has had a major hand in working for improved US-Russian relations, the focus of the Obama administration's "reset" policy, he is still considered suspect by official Russia.
Perhaps the Russians cannot forget that McFaul, prior to becoming Obama's chief advisor on Russia and then migrating to the ambassadorship, came from conservative Stanford University with its history of criticizing the Soviet Union and the Russian successor state.
Indeed, reading some of McFaul's earlier writings one can justify Russian suspicions.
In his review of Anne Applebaum's book on the Stalinist gulags, McFaul noted that Stalin's murders never received the same attention as Nazi crimes.
" In visiting Poland last month, President Bush took the time to go to Auschwitz and tour one of the most ghastly assaults to humanity in the history of mankind…The next day, Mr. Bush was in St. Petersburg, Russia. While there, he did not make it up to the Solovetsky Islands, the site of the first camp of the gulag. Nor did he call upon the world to "always remember" the millions of people who perished in the Soviet concentration camps well before Auschwitz was constructed and well after Auschwitz was dismantled. The families of the victims of Soviet Communism -- much more numerous than the families who lost loved ones in Hitler's camps -- received no special blessing from the leader of the free world.
Or take this op-ed. from the Christian Science Monitor in May 2002.
Putin is more autocratic today than he was two years ago, while the war in Chechnya continues. But today, Bush utters no critical words. In his State of the Union speech this year, Bush boldly pledged that "America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance." While Bush and his administration are rightly pushing these demands in Afghanistan, they have shown little interest in furthering these principles in Russia.
Russia cannot get used to the fact that, like other US ambassadors, McFaul meets with opposition leaders as well as with government leaders and officials.
The latest kerfuffle was the result of a speech that McFaul gave at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. In his speech, McFaul said that Russia had bribed the Kyrgyzstan regime to close the Manas airport-- an important supply conduit to Afghanistan. He cheerfully admitted that the US had offered a bribe as well, but it simply was not as generous as the Russian offer. McFaul mentioned the incident to demonstrate that improved relations between the 2 countries would prevent their being exploited by third countries.
Official Russia was not amused. The Foreign Ministry accused McFaul of overstepping the bounds of diplomatic etiquette, misrepresenting the Russian position on major issues and disparaging Russia. Former Russian ambassador to Washington Yury Ushakov, now a Putin adviser, joined the criticism saying that ambassadors should not step on the mutually constructive work of the Russian and American leaderships "one should not try to be undiplomatic, but try to be diplomatic."
McFaul received backing from the State Department and spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who called McFaul "an extremely strong ambassador", intimating that the Russian government would simply have to get used to the fact that McFaul did not mince words but preferred to speak clearly - both when things are going well and when they're going less well.
McFaul, however, has promised to be more diplomatic in the future: "Maybe I shouldn't have spoken so colorfully and bluntly. On that, I agree and will work harder to speak more diplomatically."