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An Obama Yankee in Putin's court
Tim Wall - Moscow News editorial - Moscow News - themoscownews.com - 1.16.12 - JRL 2012-9

The arrival of U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul in Moscow could not have come at a more sensitive time.

A renowned Stanford University academic, McFaul has been Barack Obama's top adviser on Russia since 2009, a key architect of the "reset," and a strong advocate of liberal democracy in the former USSR since the early 1990s. As a bitter presidential election heats up, he's likely to be in for a baptism of fire.

While not quite threatened with the fate facing Hank Morgan in Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" ­ burning at the stake ­ McFaul may feel like he is stepping back in time to the Soviet era.

Already, pro-Kremlin journalists and top officials loyal to Vladimir Putin have attacked McFaul, seeing in his campaigning stance proof that he, Obama and Hillary Clinton are plotting a new "color revolution." These attacks may convince less wary TV viewers and newspaper readers. But media propaganda can be a blunt tool, and attacking Mc- Faul's academic work merely risks shooting the messenger.

A 2005 McFaul article for "Journal of Democracy" entitled "Transitions from Postcommunism" has been cited as evidence that Washington is behind the recent election protests in Moscow. McFaul argued that as many as seven preconditions were necessary before a non-violent, democratic revolution, provoked by a falsified election, could succeed. Among these, he noted that there must be "an unpopular incumbent," "a united and organized opposition," "enough independent media to inform citizens about the falsified vote" and "splits among the 'guys with guns'".

It's true that Obama, Clinton and McFaul lent President Dmitry Medvedev's intended reforms their active support for the last four years, but that's way short of organizing a "color revolution." By itself, the U.S. cannot stage anything unless Russians themselves decide to do so.

Whether the Kremlin will succeed in making McFaul a bogeyman isn't clear. But one thing is: They can't get rid of him, and if Obama loses this year's election McFaul will have the backing of a hard-line Republican president. Come the fall, McFaul may not be the fall guy.

Keywords: Russia, U.S.-Russian Relations - Russia News - Russia


MOSCOW. Jan 16 (Interfax) - Michael McFaul's appointment as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia will not affect the development of Russian-U.S. relations, and he will be interested in continuing the reset policy, says Sergei Karaganov, the chairman of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council

"Nothing will change significantly in the Russian-U.S. relationship," Karaganov told Interfax.

"Perhaps some Russian experts and politicians will now have a friend at Spaso House (the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow), because he has been dealing with Russian affairs for 25 years, and his network of personal connections is extraordinary broad for an ambassador," he said.

In describing McFaul on the whole, Karaganov called him "one of the most deserving candidates for this office."

The expert, however, suggested that some in Russia are portraying McFaul as "some mythical figure."

"McFaul is a very experienced and a very educated man, but he will be nothing more than an ambassador knowing Russia well and having a personal stake in continuing the reset, because he is its author," Karaganov said.

"Russians should understand that Russia is far from being a top priority for America and is less important than we might think," he said.

On the other hand, the U.S. is not of much importance to most Russians, either, he said.

Asked why President Barack Obama parted with such an expert on Russian affairs, who served as senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council until lately, Karaganov said McFaul planned to leave that office anyway.

"As far as I know, McFaul was going to leave that office, having finished some phase in his career, and Obama offered him to be ambassador," he said.

Talking about former U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle, Karaganov said, while Beyrle was "an excellent ambassador, he had to be replaced just because he got into the WikiLeaks files."

It was reported earlier that McFaul had arrived in Moscow on Saturday.