Russia: US Envoy's Use of Twitter to Further Transparency

Michael McFaul, the United States (US) Ambassador to Russia, used his Twitter account earlier this week to voice his concerns that diplomatic protocols had been violated when it appeared his schedule had been leaked to journalists at the NTV television network, a project of the state-owned natural gas company Gazprom.

Global Voices discussed the Obama administration's efforts to facilitate transparency in US-Russia relations through the use of citizen media when Ambassador McFaul was sworn in last January. Later, Global Voices captured the controversy initiated by the creation of a fictional McFaul Twitter account that called into question the legitimacy of the March 2012 Russian presidential elections.

This week, on March 29, several issues were raised, including: 1) the use of a personal Twitter account of a high-ranking diplomat as a means to communicate directly with the general public, 2) regulations established by the Vienna Convention, which allow for the safety of diplomats on foreign soil, and 3) Ambassador McFaul's chosen diction and syntax as he interacted with the NTV journalists.

Ambassador McFaul and the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, Miriam Elder, had a Twitter exchange Thursday afternoon, in which Ms. Elder provided a short video of the ambassador interacting with the NTV journalists.

Miriam Elder, 1:30 pm:

Walking to metro. Run into @McFaul being harassed by ppl who say from NTV

Michael McFaul, 5:08 pm:

@MiriamElder [Welcome] to my life. Press has right to film me anywhere. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?

Miriam Elder, 5:40 pm:

[…] Indeed. And what I don't get is: if the anti-US stuff was just a pre-electoral ploy, why are they still hounding you?

Michael McFaul, 6:05 pm:

@MiriamElder interesting question.

Ambassador McFaul elaborated further via his Twitter account on what exactly about the journalists’ behavior concerned him.

2:43 pm:

Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?

5:10 pm:

I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?

5:14 pm:

When I asked these “reporters” how they knew my schedule, I got no answer. Heard the same silence when they met me after meeting w/ Chubais.

He then took some time to discuss his official diplomatic activities of the day, including his upcoming meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

5:27 pm:

With Acting Under Secy Gottemoeller, had productive meetings at MFA and Security Council today. Tough issues, but spirit of cooperation.

12:38 am, March 30:

Tomorrow I have the great honor of meeting Patriarch Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church

NTV emphasized [ru] Ambassador McFaul's use of the word “wild” – which the network found offensive – when it aired his interaction with their journalists Thursday evening. Twitter user Andrew Ryvkin included a link [ru] to that video in a Russian-language tweet:

Смотрю видео, как НТВ занимается харассментом посла США. НТВ, конечно, редкостные уёбища. Просто поразительно.

I'm watching this video, how NTV is harassing the US Ambassador. NTV, of course, are rare [assholes]. Simply amazing.

The ambassador responded by saying that he was not referring to Russia as a country, but rather to the activities of a few journalists:

Just watched NTV. I mispoke in bad Russian. Did not mean to say “wild country.” Meant to say NTV actions “wild.” I greatly respect Russia.

Yahoo News Blog wrote about the White House's response to the incident:

The United States formally complained to Moscow on Friday about possible danger to Ambassador Michael McFaul, a day after he described Russia as a “wild country” and charged repeatedly that a state-run broadcaster there may be hacking his email, spying on his telephone conversations and tracking his movements.

“We have raised our concerns about the Ambassador's security with the Russian government,” the State Department said in a terse written statement.

Headlines found in mainstream coverage of the incident display a variety of emphases:

Finally, Friday evening the ambassador retweeted an observation about the times in which we live by Rose Gottemoeller:

More often #diplomacy is happening in the open, and at quicker speeds. The world has changed and we have to adapt to the new circumstances.

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