US ambassador parries Russian attacks

AFP , Wednesday 25 Jan 2012

New US ambassador to Moscow rejects attack by Russian lawmakers over meeting with opposition leaders

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, back to camera, speaks at a meeting of the Russian Popular Front in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, about 3000 kilometers (1,850 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2011. (Photo:AP)

The new US ambassador to Moscow parried attacks on him in an interview Wednesday, saying a meeting with opposition members that provoked a furious reaction in Russia was simply part of his job.

Russian lawmakers attacked ambassador Michael McFaul, President Barack Obama's former top Russia advisor and author of the "reset" policy, for meeting opposition leaders shortly after his arrival last week.

But McFaul told Kommersant broadsheet in an interview translated into Russian that he was accompanying US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. "That is my obligation as ambassador," he said, adding that he said little at the meeting.

Strongman Vladimir Putin is seeking to win back his old Kremin job in March presidential elections despite an outburst of protest against his 12-year rule.

Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets last month, and the opposition hopes to muster another big rally on 4 February. Prime Minister Putin has accused protest leaders of being in the pay of the US State Department.

McFaul dismissed Russian accusations that his appointment was an attempt to foment a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution in Russia.

"That is complete nonsense," he said, stressing that he is a career academic.

He also rejected popular rumours that protest leader Alexei Navalny is funded by Washington, saying he received no money or support from the US and that such claims were insulting to Russia.

"It's time to stop thinking that we are living in the times of the Cold War," he said in the front-page interview headlined "I am an academic, not a professional revolutionary."

McFaul's meeting with protest leaders prompted a commentator on Russia's main Channel One television to suggest the ambassador – who once wrote a book called "Russia's Unfinished Revolution" – intended to "finish the revolution."

A leading member of Putin's United Russia party, Andrei Isayev, told the parliament on Tuesday that "US representatives are acting in an incredibly cynical manner."

"This concerns both the embassy meeting, and the very fact that McFaul, who specialises in 'orange revolutions', has been appointed US ambassador to Russia," Isayev said.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Moscow said it was not able to provide an English transcript of McFaul's Kommersant interview.


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