Michael McFaul in Moscow
Ambassador McFaul's or Mike's, as friends and colleagues call him, first steps on arrival in Moscow were marked by a mammoth scandal in the media, internet, Duma and elsewhere. However, it is my strong suspicion that Mike felt victim to some intrigues in the higher places in Washington.
McFaul's record is well-known and pretty illustrious: a Stanford man, about the best Slavist and Russian specialist (some say, Russophile) America has to offer, author of numerous monographs on Russia, etc. etc. Politically he is best known - one might say renowned -- as architect of the "reset" policy in the relations between the USA and Russia, President Obama's helpmeet in the difficult task of straightening out those relations that cried to be straightened out.
All that, however, belongs to his life and times before he donned diplomatic togs. As a diplomat, McFaul has to be part of - and be held responsible for - acts and situations for which he would presumably hate to be held accountable. This article is not an attempt to endorse all McFaul views since I often disagreed with him in the past but if one takes into account the current highly negative atmosphere towards Russia in Washington Mike is probably not the worst option.
Yes, he loves to meet with Russian opposition figures and he is on the record advocating such meetings to U.S. Presidents during their visits to Moscow and frequently did it himself while occupying his post as Obama's Russian advisor.
However, meeting them on the first or second day of his new post in the Spaso House and in the middle of highly emotional Russian presidential campaign is totally out of question. That is if he did not get a direct order from his superiors.
After that ill-fated meeting McFaul has been saying to all who will listen that he had nothing to do with it, that he was merely accompanying, according to protocol, his boss William Burns, that he kept silent throughout that meeting merely listening, etc. etc.
However, although it is true that Burns was in charge of this meeting to believe that it was his idea is even more impossible.
William Burns is one of the best and most qualified American diplomats with the extraordinary experience in Russian affairs. Even if he had a high fever that day he would never dream up a potential huge and embarrassing conflict with the same Kremlin leaders with whom Washington would have to deal at least for the next six years.
That leaves Burn's boss Hillary Clinton who presumably ordered the welcoming reception for opposition - as a poke in Putin's eye for his charge that the recent rallies in Moscow in the wake of elections to the Duma were inspired and in part instigated by Madam Secretary and other "democracy promoters" in Washington.
All these intrigues do not augur too well for the new ambassador's career in Moscow - the political constraints are too harsh. Fresh proof of this came with certain aspects of President Obama's latest State of the Union address. McFaul had confidently predicted that in that address Obama would announce Russia's graduation from the infamous Jackson-Vanik amendment. This did not happen despite McFaul's strong recommendation - apparently because Obama did not want to enter into another fight with Congress over this matter.
It is clear that Michael McFaul as an intellectual free to study his chosen field and Michael McFaul as a cog in the byzantine diplomatic machine are two different personas.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Moscow State University.