MOSCOW (AP) — State television has lashed out at the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, questioning his credentials and suggesting his agenda is to support opposition leaders and promote revolution.
Channel One criticized Ambassador Michael McFaul's appointment in a segment that aired on Tuesday night, McFaul's second day on the job.
"The fact is that McFaul is not an expert on Russia," said Channel One analyst Mikhail Leontev. "He is a specialist purely in the promotion of democracy."
The commentary questioned McFaul's previous work in Russia with the National Democratic Institute — "known for its proximity to the U.S. intelligence services" — and his connections to the "so-called democratic movement" in the early 1990s.
It also suggested McFaul has written hundreds of articles against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is expected to return to the presidency in March.
Noting the title of McFaul's 2001 book — "An Unfinished Revolution in Russia. The political change from Gorbachev to Putin" — Leontev asked, "Has Mr. McFaul arrived in Russia to work in the specialty? That is, finish the revolution?"
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland rejected the suggestions that McFaul was sent to Russia promote revolution. She said McFaul was sent to try to find new areas of cooperation with Russia and also to meet with a broad cross-section of Russians.
"From our perspective this is a benefit, that he knows Russians of every political stripe," she said.
The Channel One report followed video of Russian opposition and civil society leaders leaving the U.S. Embassy after meetings with McFaul and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns — McFaul's first official receptions in his post.
He met with senior government officials at the Kremlin on Monday.
Environmentalist Yevgeniya Chirikova, who was among those invited to the embassy, tweeted that McFaul's choice of hosting opposition leaders first had cast him in a positive light. Others at the meetings included human rights and anti-corruption activists, along with representatives from the Communist, Just Russia, Yabloko and People's Freedom Parties.
Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the discussions included elections, the jailing of Russian businessmen and the awakening of political activism in Russian society.
"We had an informal conversation about the state of civil society in our country, about human rights violations and the problems that we have," Ponomarev said.
McFaul later explained on his blog that U.S. officials in Russia make a point of meeting with both government officials and civil society leaders.
"It's a policy we call dual track engagement," he said. "We learned a lot from listening to these leaders."
McFaul is regarded as one of the nation's leading experts on U.S. relations with Russia, and has been involved in the Obama administration's efforts to "reset" relations with Moscow. That includes the signing of the New START treaty that set a ceiling of 1,550 strategic warheads in each country's arsenal.
He responded to Channel One's report on Twitter late Tuesday, saying the commentary included "no word about the 3 years of reset."
"Yesterday my mtgs with WH/Kremlin officials could not have been warmer. pluralism!" he tweeted.
Russian state TV has suggested there has been U.S. involvement in growing protests following December's fraud-tainted parliamentary election, in which Putin's United Russia party won a majority of seats.
Two days before the vote, Kremlin-controlled NTV television showed a half-hour program attacking Golos, Russia's only independent election monitoring group, which is supported by grants from the U.S. and Europe.
The program included shots of suitcases full of U.S. dollars and claimed that Golos was openly supporting opposition parties and trying to discredit the election.
The show aired several days after Putin accused Western governments of trying to influence the election through their funding of unidentified Russian non-governmental organizations.