U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday that the U.S. Ambassador to Russia was simply “raising a rhetorical question” when he claimed in his tweets that someone could be tapping his phone or spying on his emails.
Michael McFaul, who is considered one of the architects of the "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations, has been under tight scrutiny by the Russian media since he assumed his post in January. He has been criticized by Russian officials and media for alleged support of the Russian opposition.
In a rare display of his apparent discontent with the fact that the Russian reporters manage somehow to follow his every step in Moscow, including unannounced meetings with the Russian opposition leaders, McFaul wrote in one of his tweets on Thursday:
“I respect the press right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?”
Toner described McFaul's tweet as merely rhetorical and dismissed the notion that it may reflect formal concerns over surveillance by the Russian government or media.
“Well, I read Mike’s tweets, and I believe he was simply asking a rhetorical question commenting on the fact that wherever he goes in Moscow, he’s finding a presence of – large media presence, some of it hostile, and he’s wondering how they’re getting word about his schedule,” Toner said.
The spokesman added that the U.S. diplomats had the legitimate right to express their opinions in social networks to reach larger audiences. McFaul reportedly has 21,276 Twitter followers.
“Twitter is…an informal way to communicate with many of these host country populations, whether it be Russia or anywhere else in the world,” Toner said. “So we believe it’s an effective communications tool, and we encourage our chiefs of mission to use it.”
McFaul’s sharp remarks in his tweets already sparked criticism by Russian authorities when he expressed concern earlier this month over the detention of protesters who challenged Vladimir Putin's presidential election victory.
There have been no official comments from the Kremlin so far on McFaul’s latest Twitter remarks.