MOSCOW — The Twitter War between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow Michael McFaul has flared up again after the ministry said it was “utterly shocked” by a presentation the U.S. envoy gave to a group of Russian students last week.
In an unprecedented public rebuke the Foreign Ministry fired off a string of furious tweets Monday blasting McFaul for “deliberate distortion” of U.S.-Russian relations and called his conduct “unprofessional.”
“This is not the first time Mr McFaul’s statements and actions have been a cause for concern,” the ministry wrote. It quickly added: “Ambassadors’ job, as we understand it, is to improve bilateral ties, not to spread blatant falsehoods through the mediasphere.”
The angry tweets were in response to a presentation McFaul gave to a group of students at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics last Friday entitled “The ‘Reset’ Theory, Results.” His remarks addressed the often contentious U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, which the Obama administration vowed to “reset,” and efforts to improve them.
Some of the tweets ripped McFaul for his alleged criticism of the Kremlin-backed English-language television station RT, formerly known as Russia Today.
“It is hard to understand why freedom of speech supporter Michael McFaul casts suspicion on the activities of the @RT_com network in the U.S.,” the ministry wrote in one of nine tweets fired off within a span of three minutes. “It would seem he should be pleased with the emergence of additional sources of information for the American public.”
Soon after the ministry’s stinging opening salvo, McFaul took to his own Twitter account to defend his presentation, firing off tweets to note that his talk included 20 areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation and that he has appeared on RT in interviews. He also posted a link to the PowerPoint slides from his talk.
McFaul’s appointment as ambassador to Russia was a particularly controversial one in part because the Stanford professor was not a career diplomat and he faced problems from the very start.
He attended a meeting with Russian opposition figures shortly after arriving in Moscow in February, and Russian state television soon began a campaign blasting him for interfering in Russia’s internal affairs and accused the United States of paying protesters to attend anti-Putin protests. Television commentators seized on a book he wrote about Russia’s revolution and suggested he had been sent to Moscow to foment unrest.
During the next few months McFaul again made headlines when he publicly accused someone of hacking his emails and tapping his phones after a pro-Kremlin television crew followed him to unannounced meetings. The harassment led Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to personally complain to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about McFaul’s treatment, a U.S. official told ABC News.
McFaul later backpeddled on his hacking claim. On Monday he also offered a similar response to the Foreign Ministry’s criticism.
“Still learning the craft of speaking more diplomatically,” he wrote.