NBC Charlotte's Dave Wagner sat down with U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, in Sochi over the weekend. Read on for a transcript of the interview.
Dave: What’s your impression of the games?
Michael: So far so good. I was at the opening ceremonies, and yesterday I had a chance to see four events, and everywhere we went, I was part of the presidential delegation; we were greeted very warmly. I’ve signed more autographs and done more photographs with young kids here than I think I’ll ever do in the rest of my life. I’m just quite impressed so far with what we’ve seen.
Dave: How would you describe US/Russian relations right now?
Michael: I would say it’s a mix of areas where we cooperate, where our interests overlap. And I think first and foremost, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, trade and investment—those sets of issues. And then we’re in a period of time where we’re managing places where we disagree, and when I think of those issues, I think of disagreements we have about—also Syria, and the broader ‘what’s happening in the Middle East’, as well as our differences of opinion about the state of civil society developments and the restrictions that are on them in this country.
Dave: What impact has the asylum of Edward Snowden had on the relationship between United States and Russia?
Michael: Well, we would like him to return. We’ve made that very clear to our Russian government officials. There are charges against him, and he should go home and face those in a court of law.
Dave: Do you have any sense that there will be any bending of that or cooperation with the US government?
Michael: We’ve maintained our position since the day he showed up here. I remember that day well. Our position hasn’t changed. We’re in a bit of a stand still right now about that particular issue. But we’re not letting that issue stop us from cooperating, for instance, with the Russians, to try to get rid of chemical weapons in Syria. We’re not letting that issue, for instance, stop us from being here at this great event and having our government represented. We think we can disagree in one area and cooperate in another and not have the two of them tied together.
Dave: The United States government had made an offer of assistance for security at these games. Was that accepted at any point?
Michael: I would call it cooperation. And yes, we cooperate with the Russians very closely on a range of counter-terrorism issues, including the Olympics here. We always want more cooperation. We always want more information. If our intelligence community wasn’t asking for more they wouldn’t be doing their job, so that’s appropriate. But all things considered I think we are impressed by the level of preparation that they’ve put in place and our liaison relationship with them is good right now.
Dave: There has been concern from some Americans who are here for the Olympics that their activities are very closely being monitored, their computers are being compromised. As a person who’s been here in Russia, what would you advise them?
Michael: It’s on our website at the State Department. We advise everybody-- well before this Olympics and well after-- that when you come here you should not assume any privacy with respect to your communication devices. That’s their laws; that’s the way it works here. I personally, of course, have been subject to that. I think I’m probably a very interested person for the Russian government when it comes to those things and people should just not assume privacy.
Dave: What has been monitored by them of your conversations or your activity?
Michael: Well, there are things that I can and cannot talk about with respect to everything I know. But on occasion or two, I’ve had conversations-- private communications-- I‘ve had rebroadcast on the internet.
Dave: Is that something that’s taboo when it comes to a diplomat?
Michael: Well, we most certainly think so. We think that’s a breach of diplomatic protocol.
Dave: What are you going to be doing after you leave? You’ve made it clear you that you’d like to go back home to California.
Michael: Yeah, I’m leaving with a heavy heart because it’s the greatest honor of my life to be able represent the United States in Russia. And I love my job; it’s a fantastic job. I worry I’ll never have a job as good as this again, but I’m going to go back to Stanford. That’s my home. It’s been my home for a long time. I’ve been commuting for 5000 miles for seven months now because my family has moved back. It’s time to go home; it’s time to reunite our family.