US ambassador surprised by Russian criticism

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The U.S. ambassador to Russia said Wednesday that he was surprised by the Russian Foreign Ministry's criticism of his remarks at a meeting with students last week and the Ministry's interpretation that he had suggested Russia tried to bribe Kyrgyzstan.

The attack follows recent negative coverage of McFaul by Russian state-run television stations, which suggested his agenda is to support opposition leaders and promote a "revolution."

Russia's Foreign Ministry castigated Michael McFaul on Monday for saying Russia had offered money to the leader of Kyrgyzstan for removing a U.S. base from its soil, saying his description of this and other issues was "deliberately distorted."

The Ministry also accused McFaul of misrepresenting Russia's stance on issues such as the Iranian nuclear standoff and North Korea's nuclear program.

"This isn't the first the time when statements and actions of Mr. McFaul are causing bewilderment," Russia's Foreign Ministry said.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked Tuesday by reporters if McFaul had accused Russia of seeking to bribe Kyrgyzstan. She replied, "My understanding is that there was a misinterpretation of what he said."

McFaul said on his Livejournal blog Wednesday that his speech last week was intended to applaud U.S.-Russian cooperation.

"The point of my digressions into past historical practices was not to 'spread blatant falsehoods,' but rather to illustrate precisely how much we have overcome by abandoning these outmoded ways of diplomacy from previous eras," he wrote.

McFaul said he probably "shouldn't have spoken so colorfully and bluntly" and promised to "work harder to speak more diplomatically."

McFaul, a former Stanford University professor, has written extensively on fostering democracy. He is regarded as a leading expert on U.S. relations with Russia, and has played a key role in the Obama administration's efforts to "reset" ties with Moscow.

Earlier this year, McFaul was perplexed to see crews of a government-controlled TV station stalking his every move and expressed concern that his email and phone calls may be intercepted.

Monday's ministerial attack on McFaul follows strong criticism of the U.S. by Vladimir Putin, who won a third presidential term in March's election. In the run-up to the vote, Putin accused the U.S. of backing massive protests against his 12-year rule.