Monday, January 16, 2012

US Mission Russia: Ambassador McFaul Makes Online Splash, and About Those 'Personal' Twitter Accounts

Earlier last week, the new US Ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul launched his new twitter account @McFaul --  By Thursday, the US Embassy in Moscow rolled out its introduction video of Ambassador McFaul via YouTube (below).  On Friday, he and his family were in route to Moscow, arriving on Saturday, just in time for his new blog to go live. Jet lag not allowed. Today, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accepted copies of the ambassador's credentials.  Ambassador McFaul is now officially the second U.S. ambassador to Russia in 30 years who was not a career diplomat.

The 2:14 minute YouTube video cross-posted in Ambassador McFaul's brand new blog at has already garnered 2440 comments. I don't read/speak Russian so I don't know if the comments are favorable or not.

John Brown of John Brown's Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, Version 2.0 and former CAO at US Embassy in Moscow, has the following via HuffPo:
I've looked at/listened to newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul's recent video presentation to the people of Russia. Based on my Foreign Service experience in Moscow as Cultural Affairs Officer (1998-2001), several aspects of the talk struck me.

First, the negative ones, from the perspective of U.S. public diplomacy with the Russian Federation, and especially its younger generation:
1. Repeated references to the Soviet Union (including showing a map of that former geographical expression), which collapsed some 20 years ago;

2. The fact that the Ambassador did not speak in Russian (as his predecessor did fluently on YouTube clips), except for a few words at the end of his remarks*;

3. The use of the word "help" (translated as pomogat' in the subtitle) in U.S. dealings with the Russian population. Of all things Russians dislike most about foreigners, it is condescension of any sort on their part;

4. No reference to high Russian culture, except for Tchaikovsky (to which the Ambassador refers in the same breath as he does to Russian hockey); no references, even indirect, to intellectuals who condemned the USSR.

5. Irritating, feel-good background music that could be straight out of a U.S. TV commercial for a penile dysfunction pill.


1. Mentioning a new visa agreement that will make it easier for Russians to visit the U.S.;

2. An effort to reach out to the Russian "provinces" by comparing them to the Ambassador's home state of Montana;

3. A "down-to-earth" approach that might appeal to the "muzhik" (regular guy) side in the character of many Russians;

4. Stress on people-to-people exchanges;

5. He did not go on for too long, as do so many Russian politicians.

*However, it is better, in official remarks, for a foreigner to speak in his own language than address Russians in bad Russian, which will quickly turn off his audience. A few words indicating an appreciation of their language, yes; a long delivery full of grammatical and pronunciation errors, no. The Russians, though more tolerant of foreign accents than some other Europeans, are a bit like the French who cringe when they have to endure an American murdering their mother tongue by trying awkwardly to express himself in it, in his effort to show that he "understands" them.
Read in full here: U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul's YouTube Presentation From a Public Diplomacy Perspective

More than the irritating background music, I actually got a headache from the speedy photo transitions in this video. It feels like going on a super sprint, in YouTube - makes you feel dizzzzyyy and out of breath. 

In any case, Ambassador McFaul actually speaks fluent Russian (as well as Polish and Portuguese), so he could have done this intro video in Russian; instead it is in English with Russian subtitles which is good since a bunch of folks in D.C. and the WH also do not speak Russian.

Must also note that his new Twitter account is @McFaul, not Ambassador McFaul like @AmbassadorRice (UN) or @AmbassadorRoos  (Japan).  Whether or not he continue as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in a year or two, he remains @McFaul in the twitterverse. Which is good for him, but not so good for the US Embassy in Moscow, who would have to start from Twitter scratch with a new ambassador in a year or in five years, depending on how 2012 turns out.

The same thing with Ambassador Susan Rice, who has some
115,653 followers, and Ambassador John Roos with 48,152 followers; both are political appointees. The USUN Mission just like the US Embassy in Japan would have to start from zero when these political appointees end their tenure. Given that these offices actually have social media teams handling their online accounts, wouldn't it make mire more sense to use the position not the name as the handle for these accounts?  I can only find one -- @WHAAsstSecty -- formerly used by Arturo Valenzuela and currently used by the Acting Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, which has done that. 

And what do you do with now that she is no longer the US ambassador to Seoul? Does it go to a twittermentery?

Anyway, I'm also confused about the "personal" notations on the ambassadors' Twitter accounts. Isn't a U.S. ambassador the personal representative of the President of the United States overseas, and the public face of the U.S. government in his/her host country?  Doesn't it follow that everything he/she says is official?  So then to pretend otherwise is rather silly, isn't it?


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