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7 Things to Know about Michael McFaul

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul leaves Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 15, 2013. McFaul has been summoned by the Russian foreign ministry in connection with an alleged spy detention in Moscow. He entered the ministry's building in central Moscow Wednesday morning and left half an hour later without saying a word to journalists waiting outside the compound. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze) Misha Japaridze / ASSOCIATED PRESS

1) McFaul will leave his ambassador post soon after the Olympics. From his blog:I will leave Russia reluctantly. I love this job. It is a tremendous honor to represent my country here. I will miss interacting with my partners in the Russian government and with Russians from all sectors of society and business. And I will deeply miss being a member of a fantastic team at the U.S. Embassy. And my departure will mark the end of more than five years of working for President Obama and his administration (or seven years if you count my work as an unpaid advisor on his campaign). This is hard, really hard.

2) President Obama chose McFaul to help reset U.S. relations with Russia. He told NPR’s Scott Simon:

The idea was: let's engage with the Russian government in a way that was not happening before we came to office. And I think that's important to remember. You have to judge the reset by where we started from.

And we believe it's been, you know, successful. We have opened new supply lines to Afghanistan. We signed a new START Treaty. We signed a one, two, three agreement on civilian cooperation. We've worked closely on nonproliferation issues, most recently on North Korea but also on Iran. And Russia's about to join the WTO, which we think will serve our economic interests well.

So we look at this, you know, very pragmatically and kind of what's in our interests. We see a lot of achievement here.

3) McFaul’s work in Russia was not always welcome by the Russians. From The Washington Post:

Before working at the White House, McFaul, 50, was an academic, writing extensively on democracy in this part of the world. That was enough for Putin and other officials to consider McFaul a provocateur. He was greeted with suspicion and even malevolence, as if sent by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to fan the fires of revolution and encourage unwelcome democratic initiatives.

Not content to slip into the background, he was followed by hostile television crews, who harassed not only him but the people he met with if they happened to be involved with the human rights movement or the political opposition. McFaul pressed on, undeterred, almost invariably good-humored, except for one encounter in which he told a particularly aggressive pack that they represented a “wild” country.

4) McFaul is noted for using Twitter to communicate directly to Russians. From The New York Times:

Then there is Michael A. McFaul, a former White House aide who pioneered the use of Twitter as a diplomatic tool when he became ambassador to Russia in 2011. …

Mr. McFaul’s posts landed him in hot water with the Russian government early in his tenure, when he defended protesters and expressed suspicion that he was under surveillance by the local authorities. But he kept at it, posting in both English and Russian. Twitter, he said Tuesday, allowed him to “interact with a high school student in Vladivostok or a minister in the Russian government almost instantaneously,” without having to go through the Russian news media.

5) Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted well-wishes to McFaul on Tuesday, and McFaul responded:
6) McFaul grew up in Montana, and returned to his high school in September 2010 to be inducted in its Hall of Honor. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

McFaul wasn't thinking about future honors the day he signed up for a debate class at Bozeman Senior High. He was a junior, just transferred from Butte, and a neighbor assured him debate was a "mic" - a super-easy, Mickey Mouse class.

But debate teacher Bob Adams turned out to be so fantastic, McFaul got hooked and joined the debate team. He spent hours researching the topic of the year -- How to improve U.S. trade - and focused on trade with the Soviet Union.

In English teacher Mike Durney's class, McFaul learned to read novels and think about them seriously for the first time. He learned to improve his own "atrocious" writing.

"Now I write for a living," McFaul said, having written dozens of books, articles and policy papers.

The skills he learned in debate, he said, "making arguments, putting together evidence," are the same things that "as a professor at Stanford and as a policymaker in Washington, I do every day."

People at Bozeman High encouraged him to apply to Stanford ("I didn't know where Stanford was when I was in Butte.")

7) McFaul’s mother says her son’s curiosity in Russia sparked from his high school debate years. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

Michael, the oldest of five children, joined the Bozeman High School debate team and researched the national debate question of whether the United States should continue to give economic support to the Soviet Union. ...

The debate sparked Michael’s interest in Russia. It continued to grow at Stanford University, where he studied political science. He ended up studying abroad in Russia three times while it was still the Soviet Union.

“First time I put him on a plane I was sure I was never going to see him again,” said Helen. “I was sure the communists were going to kidnap him or something.”