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Twitter Diplomacy

American Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, has claimed that state sponsored media have spied on him by hacking his email accounts and tapping his phone. McFaul is reported to have been stalked and followed around by NTV, a national TV station in Moscow. McFaul tweeted about this on his Twitter page stating that his phone was tapped and his emails intercepted.

April 12, 2012 - Maia Lazar - Articles and Commentary



McFaul is relatively new to Twitter and still learning the ropes. In an interview with Chrystia Freeland, he admitted, “The thing I feel most nervous about is blending the personal and the professional. That’s new to me. I’m learning where the lines are.”

McFaul also exchanged a few tweets with another Twitter user under the username “ProstitutKamila.” She asked McFaul why “Do you get nervous for talking to journalists?” He replied, “[They] [W]ere not just journalists. Were men in military uniform. People w/ posters. All strange for me. Learning.”

Some have also speculated that “ProstitutKamila” is neither a prostitute nor a real person but rather a creation or alter-ego of the Kremlin itself. But this possibility is hard to believe since in her LiveJournal blog, “Kamila”, has been known to criticise politicians

Kamila’s tagline can be translated as, “Here, at any time, they can backhandedly rupture your self-esteem, and your ideas could face hundreds of others. Frozen? Come in or don’t come in. Beyond the clouds…” A Google search of this tagline appears to be associated with an obscure Russian detective novel.

Kamila’s profile picture shows the lower half of a woman’s body: short pencil skirt, crossed legs, and the hint of a sandal. While not much is known about “ProstitutKamila”, other than her posts about Russian politics and culture, NTV, the TV station that allegedly harassed Ambassador McFaul, is not regarded in a positive light by the West. NTV’s journalistic practices have been criticized by Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Endowment Moscow Centre as “sloppy.” Video footage of McFaul was taken for “no specific purpose”, and the aim behind a recent NTV documentary was to portray anti-Putin protesters as paid mercenaries of democracy.

It is also reported that one of the opposition leaders’ email accounts was hacked and that they had been receiving money from the United States, causing quite a stir in the Russian media. Whether or not it was true that the opposition received funding from the US, it left observers with a bad taste of distrust in their mouths. It is not because of the legacy of the Cold War, but rather due to the more recent history: such as the US’s involvement in the Middle East.

It is important to note that McFaul is only the second diplomat appointed to the American Embassy in Moscow in 30 years who has not been a career diplomat. Before moving to Moscow last year, he was a professor of political science at Stanford University as well as the former Director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.

But McFaul is no stranger to tensions with the Russian government. In 1994, three years after he received his PhD, there was an assassination attempt on McFaul when a sniper shot at him through his university office window. Some have speculated that this was in response to critical comments he made about Russia. In 1996, McFaul made his first trip to the Kremlin to discuss the Russian electoral system and the research he was doing at Stanford at the time. Hence, it is no surprise that his relationship with the Kremlin is as “wild” as he has said.

McFaul could be correctly described as a promoter of democracy. It is not difficult to understand why – his charm and sociability are evident. Not long ago, McFaul was seen “tearing up the dance floor” with his wife in Moscow. Perhaps President Barack Obama chose the right person to be the trendsetter for democracy?

As McFaul continues to grapple with the ever-changing political “wildness” of Russia, he still has one other environment to grapple with – the nascent but developing political twitter-sphere. Many diplomatic officials, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton herself, have joined the fray. And it seems that through Twitter, foreign policy can get close and personal, enabling officials and the public to dialogue in under 140 characters.

Maia Lazar is a student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and an editorial intern with New Eastern Europe.

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