I am going go ahead and put personal politics out front: I am a huge fan of The eXile, and while Ames is my favorite, I certainly took Taibbi’s side in this epic back-and-forth with Michael McFaul from 2002.
Therefore I was unsurprised by what could be perceived as mis-steps early in Michael McFaul tenure as the 6th US ambassador to post-USSR Russia. After all, there he was, sweating his way through press conferences in early days (as seen in the BBC documentary posted here), and generally seeming out of his element…
And his decision to meet opposition leaders so shortly after presenting his credentials to Moscow, combined with his surprise when he was besieged on Twitter by the Foreign Ministry and hounded by ruling party activists, initially convinced me that he may also be out of touch.
However, moving beyond an orientalist approach to the post-Soviet world, if one looks at how McFaul has been received by Russian citizens, it seems that he has acquitted himself well:
For every tepid editorial criticizing his lack of tact, like this one, there are dozens of reader comments that suggest McFaul’s style is much appreciated, and just what the doctor ordered:
– “Макфол очень, очень умный.”
– “Из того, что прочитал, не увидел ни вмешательства во внутренние дела, ни попытки диктата. Скорее сходная с вашей и МИДом реакция похожа на паранойю.”
And in perhaps the biggest sign of acceptance, McFaul gamely made an appearance on Вечерний Ургант in November 2012, less than a year into his tenure (McFaul is there for the opening gag and then enters again at 7:40):
While the most telling moment may be the energetic applause from the audience at mention of Barack Obama’s re-election, McFaul himself gets an ovation when he lists the top three reasons Americans should visit Russia (люди, люди, и люди). He is a good sport throughout.
Finally, McFaul strengthened his street cred by delivering a 2013 New Year’s message set to a real banging sound track: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnZD_xtCfD4
P.S. for an interview with Michael McFaul about everything under the sun, including in Russia, here is a piece published in Газета in July 2012.