Responding to attacks
McFaul has avoided commenting publicly but has responded by using Twitter and his blog to speak directly to the Russian people. After a columnist on the government RT television Web site proclaimed that Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright had ordered McFaul to groom revolutionaries in Russia — and that McFaul had sent prominent blogger Alexei Navalny to Yale as part of that project — McFaul tweeted that it was a lie.
Another day he suggested that officials treated him well in private. “Productive meetings this week with Russian govt officials, even as we disagree on Syria. Sharp contrast with public anti-US statements,” he tweeted Feb. 8.
Putin’s spokesman did not respond to a request to comment on the anti-Americanism, but in an interview with the New York Times this month, he stood by Putin’s suggestions that U.S. money was being used to stir up the protest here. “I don’t believe it,” Dmitri Peskov said in that interview, “I know it.”
The attacks against American efforts to promote democracy bear some similarities to those underway in Egypt, where democracy-building organizations financed by the United States are being prosecuted. But the Russian version comes with greater ambivalence; in Moscow, the lines at McDonald’s are always long and an iPhone is a dearly sought prize.
Paul Hollander, a sociologist and expert on anti-Americanism, described the tactics as old-style Soviet propaganda that still resonates because as the remaining superpower America is easy to resent. “Putin probably doesn’t believe it himself,” he said, “but probably many Russians do.”
The anti-American onslaught has made it difficult to keep up any momentum in the relationship between the two countries, said Fiona Hill, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.
“In a way it seems like a low-cost option to play the anti-American card,” she said. “They probably figure if Obama comes back they can patch it up and if the Republicans return to the White House it doesn’t matter anyway. Although I think that’s questionable.”
Before he became Obama’s adviser on Russia, McFaul was an academic writing about democracy promotion. He joined Stanford University in 1995 and for two years before that worked in Moscow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He’s a fantastic target because of his writings,” Hill said.
An American bankroll helps explain to the wider Russian public why Putin opponents are filling the streets, says Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“That’s Mr. Putin’s opinion,” he said, “and that is accompanied by a whole choir of the media who are usually very close to the Kremlin and who get the tune and develop it into a whole melody. This is understandable. What is less understandable is what happens next.”
The tactic may not be so useful this spring when both the G8 and NATO meet in Chicago and Putin as president should meet with Obama.
“What does he tell Mr. Obama in May?” Kremenyuk said. “This is a case when the immediate goal overshadows the longer-term perspective.”
Correspondent Will Englund contributed to this report.