US ambassador has run-in with Russian TV
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. AP photoThe US ambassador to Moscow questioned Friday how a Kremlin-linked television channel accessed his private schedule after a run-in with its reporters in which he called Russia a "wild country".
Michael McFaul wrote on Twitter that NTV, a state-run broadcaster which has aired smear documentaries against the opposition, seemed to know his private schedule and was waiting as he arrived to meet a prominent rights activist.
"State Dept does not publish my schedule," McFaul wrote, adding that the meeting with the veteran activist Lev Ponomaryov from the For Human Rights group was also not scheduled through the consulate.
NTV published a statement on its website saying the channel has a "wide network of informants." McFaul has had a rough ride from Russian media since assuming his post in January, which coincided with protests against Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin.
He was slammed for meeting opposition leaders on his second day in Moscow, with a commentator on the most watched news show on Channel One asking the author of "Russia's Unfinished Revolution" whether he had come to Russia "to finish the revolution." He is not the first diplomat in Moscow to complain of harassment in recent years.
In 2006, pro-Kremlin groups picketed the British embassy, calling for then-ambassador Tony Brenton to stand down over accusations that he was financing the opposition.
In 2007, the Estonian ambassador Marina Kaljurand temporarily closed the embassy after pro-Kremlin activists tried to physically attack her during protests over the moving of a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn.
McFaul, a former academic specialising in Russian politics, was one of the architects of US President Barack Obama's "reset" in relations with Russia. He is the first US ambassador in Russia to constantly air his views on Twitter.
NTV late Thursday aired a video of McFaul, a fluent Russian speaker, angrily questioning reporters on how they knew of the meeting and accusing them of hounding him.
"This is a disgrace to your country when you do this. Do you understand that?" McFaul asked. "How did you know about this meeting, if that's not a secret? How did you get the information that I would be here? You can't answer." "For me this a very serious question because this is against the Geneva convention if you are going to get information from my telephone or my Blackberry," McFaul said.
In the footage, a woman reporter seen on camera told him that the information came from "open sources" without specifying.
The woman recently took part in a smear documentary against opposition protesters aired on NTV, which alleged that they bribed people to attend mass rallies.
Visibly riled, McFaul told the journalists the situation reflected badly on Russia.
"This is a wild country, it turns out. This is not normal. It does not happen in our country, it does not happen in Britain, in Germany, in China. Only here and only with you," he said.
He later apologised for the comment on Twitter, explaining he meant to say the NTV crew was acting wildly not that Russia was wild.
US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told a press briefing Thursday that McFaul was wondering how media were "getting word about his schedule," but did not comment on whether McFaul believed the Russian government was involved.
"I'll just say he was asking a rhetorical question," Toner said.
Shortly before he ended his term as ambassador in 2008, Britain's Brenton told The Mail on Sunday weekly that: "One of the sad things about working here is that you have to assume you are being listened to."