Michael McFaul wrote in his twitter that he will quit the post of US Ambassador to Russia soon after the Sochi Olympics.
The diplomat also wrote that “he will miss Russia and its people” and in the subsequent tweet invited all those interested in the reasons behind the decision to read his blog hosted by the Russian-owned platform, Livejournal.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) February 4, 2014
The expanded explanation was entitled “It’s time, my friend, it’s time!” – a line from Russia’s most popular classical poet, Aleksander Pushkin. The blog states that McFaul’s 7-month separation with his family is no longer endurable. The ambassador’s wife and two sons moved back to the United States from Moscow in last summer because one of their children wanted to finish school at home. The whole family agreed that this was the right decision, the post reads.
The news of Ambassador McFaul’s possible resignation first appeared in November 2013. The Russian mass circulation daily, Izvestia, wrote at the time that the diplomatic failures demonstrated during the Snowden scandal, the adoption of the Dima Yakovlev law and the earlier row over the Magnitsky Act, could cost the diplomat his career.
McFaul’s own announcement of his departure, on the contrary, concentrated on successes, such as the “reset” in Russia-US relations, the successful cooperation on Afghanistan and many other problems. He also mentioned the unresolved issues, but said that he was nevertheless satisfied with the way the US side had worked on these.
McFaul’s style of addressing the mass media and people through blogs and social networks became his trademark – he was the first US ambassador to Russia to adopt the new media.
This openness allowed for direct contact with Russians (at least one way) but also led to numerous misunderstandings and sometimes conflicts. The contradictions became especially acute as Russia moved to ban the adoption of Russian kids by US citizens, and by proxy of US organizations.
When the bill was in its preparatory stage, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament invited Ambassador McFaul to the hearings concerning the fate of some Russian kids adopted by US parents. The diplomat officially turned down the invitation, saying that it was not established practice for a US diplomat to testify before foreign parliamentary bodies.
The day after refusing the invitation from the State Duma, McFaul published an extensive letter in Russian and English in his internet blog. He said that he was deeply concerned by the way some Russian commentators were portraying the US legal system, US diplomats and Americans in general.
Russian legislators expressed surprise at this statement and noted that the rules had not prevented McFaul from discussing the cancellation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment in the Upper House of parliament several months before. The head of the State Duma international relations committee, Aleksey Pushkov, called McFaul’s refusal a regrettable fact, but noted that it only showed that the United States was not ready for serious dialogue.
Another recent Russian novelty – the law that requires all NGOs engaged in political activities and receiving sponsorship from abroad to register as foreign agents - also became a conflict point between McFaul and the Russians. In November 2013, the ambassador said at a public press conference that he was outraged by mass media allegations that the US government was sponsoring the Russian opposition. McFaul also dismissed the reports of his alleged connections with popular anti-corruption blogger, Aleksey Navalny, and assured the Russian public that he had never given Navalny any money.
When Navalny was running for Moscow mayor in August 2013, McFaul again mentioned the blogger in a Facebook post. The diplomat posted a photograph with one of Aleksey Navalny’s campaign posters with life-size photographs of male and female supporters. The male figure had McFaul’s face, either glued on the spot or Photoshopped. The ambassador wrote that he received the picture from “someone” via twitter and the mysterious person asked him if the image was altered artificially. “Of course it is!” the diplomat said. “But the mere fact that someone is asking such a question is depressing. Tragic that someone could even think for a moment that this photo is real,” McFaul elaborated before asking his Facebook friends to explain the situation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to McFaul’s announcement in the same way it was made – via its official Twitter Account.
— МИД РФ (@MID_RF) February 4, 2014
Good-bye Mikhail! Reads the tweet in which McFaul’s first name is jokingly spelled the Russian way.