Russia rebukes “undiplomatic” U.S. envoy

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Russia sharply criticized the U.S. ambassador for the third time in his five-month tenure after he said that Moscow offered Kyrgyzstan a bribe in a bid to evict U.S. forces from an air base and had sought backroom “quid pro quo” deals on key issues.

The Foreign Ministry expressed “extreme bewilderment” at remarks Michael McFaul made in a university lecture in Friday, which it said went “far beyond the boundaries of diplomatic etiquette and amounted to a deliberate distortion of several aspects of the Russian-American dialogue.”

McFaul is the architect of President Barack Obama’s “reset”, which has improved ties that had become increasingly strained during the administrations of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin and hit a low with Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008, Reuters reports.

But the plain-spoken envoy has been clouded by controversy since he arrived in January – shortly after Putin, employing anti-American rhetoric in his successful campaign to return to the presidency, accused the United States of stirring up protests against his rule.

The ministry took issue with McFaul’s statement that Russia had “put a big bribe on the table” to get Kyrgyzstan to order the United States out of a transit facility it uses to support operations in Afghanistan – a reference to a $2 billion loan widely perceived that way by analysts at the time, in 2009.

McFaul prefaced the remark by saying he would not be speaking very diplomatically, and added half-jokingly that the United States had offered its own bribe but that it was “about 10 times smaller.”

In a statement issued late on Monday, the Foreign Ministry said McFaul “knows better (than Russia) what bribes Washington gave to whom.”

LIGHTENING ROD

It dismissed as “unprofessional” McFaul’s statement that Russia had at times proposed deals in which the United States would make concessions on one issue in exchange for Russian support on another unrelated issue, a practice he said President Barack Obama has rejected.

The ministry stopped short of saying the remarks could damage relations but said it was “not the first time statements and actions of Mr. McFaul … have caused shock.”

Over the winter, McFaul become a lightning rod for similar accusations in the Russian media, and in March he sparred verbally with a TV crew that trailed him around Moscow. In the university talk, however, he said pressure on him had eased.

In March, the Foreign Ministry rebuked McFaul after he expressed concern on Twitter at the detention of protesters who challenged Putin’s victory. The ministry said the United States had been less humane in dispersing anti-Wall Street protesters.

In early April, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took aim at McFaul for a remark he made about U.S. plans for a European missile shield, saying he had “arrogantly” rejected Russia’s concerns about the anti-missile system.

In a Twitter response to the Foreign Ministry statement, parts of which were posted on the social media, McFaul pointed out that his talk had “highlighted over 20 positive results of “reset,” that our governments worked together to achieve.”

McFaul was previously Obama’s top Russia adviser but has little experience as a diplomat. Responding to a Twitter user who had directed his attention to the Russian statement he tweeted: “Still learning the craft of speaking more diplomatically.”