- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Putin taps envoy

Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov is back in Moscow in a newly established position as a top foreign-affairs adviser to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who created the post in what many observers see as an attempt by the former president to exert his influence beyond domestic policy.

Some Russian commentators interpreted the new appointment as a sign that Mr. Putin, after eight years as president, intends to overshadow his hand-picked successor, President Dmitry Medvedev. Under the Russian Constitution, the president, as head of state, has sole responsibility for setting foreign policy, while the prime minister is mostly responsible for domestic affairs.

The Moscow Times noted that the appointment of Mr. Ushakov as deputy to Cabinet chief of staffSergei Sobyanin “could indicate a shifting of powers” from the president to the prime minister. Kommersant.com, a respected Russian daily news Web site, added that selection of Mr. Ushakov is also a challenge to the authority of Foreign MinisterSergey Lavrov, an “old rival” of the ambassador’s. They competed for the appointment of foreign minister in 2004, Kommersant.com said.

Whatever the politics behind the decision, Mr. Putin chose a seasoned foreign-service officer who strongly defended his policies as ambassador in Washington since January 1999, especially against U.S. analysts who accused Mr. Putin of restricting civil rights during his two terms as president.

Mr. Ushakov was at times a polished diplomat with a gift of understatement and at times a bulldog critic of American officials who dared question Mr. Putin’s commitment to democracy.

In 2003, Sen. John McCain, now the presumptive Republican candidate for president, warned against a “creeping coup against the forces of democracy” after Mr. Putin’s government arrested a prominent opponent, billionaire businessmanMikhail Khodorkovsky, and charged him with tax evasion, fraud, forgery and embezzlement.

Mr. Ushakov, dropping all diplomatic pretense, denounced the senator from Arizona for setting a “blatant example of the Cold War sentiments still nurtured” by some U.S. politicians.

“It is hard to recall the last time we heard anything similar to the charge of lies and hatred set off by Senator McCain,” the ambassador added.

Mostly during his years in Washington, Mr. Ushakov called for better relations between the United States and Russia. At a forum marking the 50th anniversary of the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, the ambassador noted the “amazing level” of cooperation in space exploration by the two countries since then.

“I would like to make a point by saying that, today, we need to work on bringing out space partnership from the stars to Earth [and] on building the same spirit of trust and commitment down here,” he said.

Also last year, at reception commemorating two centuries of U.S.-Russia diplomatic relations, Mr. Ushakov dealt with the increased tensions between Washington and Moscow with a light-hearted comment.

“I should say,” he noted, “that the first 200 years are always the hardest.”

Missing credit

Embassy Row last week failed to give credit where it was due in a column item about diplomatic tensions between the United States and Zimbabwe spilling over into the U.S. presidential contest.

The Redding News Review deserved recognition for its interview with Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, who criticized White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for accusingPresident Robert Mugabe of ignoring the results of the first round of the presidential election on March 29.

The comments from the Democratic presidential candidate were made “out of ignorance or malice,” the ambassador told the online news service.

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