The dispute between the U.S. ambassador to Russia and the Russian Foreign Ministry is no laughing matter, but it is becoming the butt of jokes in Moscow.
The latest dust-up between Ambassador Michael McFaul and the Kremlin played out on Twitter this week, after the Foreign Ministry accused Mr. McFaul of "unprofessional" behavior. It also complained that he spread "blatant falsehoods through the media."
Mr. McFaul at first defended himself, and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington added that Moscow must have misunderstood the ambassador's comments last week before students at the prestigious Moscow Higher School of Economics.
By midweek, Mr. McFaul apologized, and at least one popular Internet site was running online surveys that poked fun at Mr. McFaul's lack of diplomatic experience.
Mr. McFaul, one of the chief architects of President Obama's so-called "reset" policy with Russia, was a professor of political science at Stanford University when Mr. Obama selected him last year to serve in Moscow.
His upbeat slide presentation at the school concentrated on how U.S.-Russian relations have changed during the Obama administration.
However, in questions after the slide show, he accused Moscow of bribing Kyrgyzstan with a $2 billion aid package in 2009 to encourage the former Soviet republic to evict U.S. troops from an air base used to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan.
His blunt remarks were the latest in a war of words he has had with the Russian government and Kremlin supporters in the media since he arrived in Moscow in February. The state-owned media has criticized him for meeting with opponents of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, but Mr. McFaul simply fought back on Twitter.
In an online poll this week, the web site LiveJournal.com asked viewers: "Does it make any sense for the U.S. government to hire a non-diplomat for a diplomatic position?"
The most popular response was: "Yes. It's more funny this way."
Asked what will happen to Mr. McFaul, most people answered: "He will go nuts and resign."
A member of the Russian parliament added that Mr. McFaul has damaged his ability to represent the Obama administration.
"It's the United States that has to decide whether they need an ambassador who won't have any influence in Moscow," Aleksey Pushkov, a member of the foreign affairs committee, said in a tweet Wednesday.
In his remarks at the school last week, Mr. McFaul said, "I won't be diplomatic. I'll say openly that your country paid off Kyrgyzstan to kick the Americans out of Manas [air base]."
He added that the United States also "offered a bribe" to the Kyrgyz government to extend the use of the facility.
After the Foreign Ministry denounced Mr. McFaul on Monday, Mrs. Nuland defended the ambassador.
"He speaks plainly. He speaks clearly. He doesn't mince words. He's not a professional diplomat," she said.
By Wednesday, Mr. McFaul apologized in an email.
"Maybe I shouldn't have spoken so colorfully and bluntly," he said.
DON'T WANT HIM
The United States has no intention of seeking the extradition of the Australian activist who released tens of thousands of classified U.S. documents and caused a diplomatic crisis around the world, the American ambassador in Canberra said Thursday.
Ambassador Jeffrey L. Bleich dismissed conspiracy theories spread by supporters of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who lost his fight this week to prevent Britain from extraditing him to Sweden to face sex-abuse charges.
"It's not something the U.S. cares about," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I think it's one of those narratives that has been made up. There's nothing to it."
Mr. Bleich explained that if the United States had wanted to prosecute Mr. Assange, the Obama administration would have sought his extradition from Britain, where he has been living for years.
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