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US ambassador has run-in with Russian TV

The US ambassador to Moscow questioned Friday how a Kremlin-linked television had accessed his private schedule after having a run-in with a television crew in which he called Russia a “wild country”.

Michael McFaul wrote on Twitter that NTV, a state-run broadcaster which has aired smear documentaries against the opposition, seemed to know his private schedule and was waiting as he arrived to meet a prominent rights activist.

NTV published a statement on its website saying the channel has a “wide network of informants.”

“State Dept does not publish my schedule,” McFaul wrote, adding that the meeting with the veteran activist Lev Ponomaryov from the For Human Rights group was also not scheduled through the consulate.

McFaul, a former academic specialising in Russian politics, was one of the architects of US President Barack Obama’s “reset” in relations with Russia. He is the first US ambassador in Russia to constantly air his views on Twitter.

NTV late Thursday aired a video of McFaul, a fluent Russian speaker, angrily questioning reporters on how they knew of the meeting and accusing them of hounding him.

“This is a disgrace to your country when you do this. Do you understand that?” McFaul said. “How did you know about this meeting, if it’s not a secret? How did you get the information that I would be here? You can’t answer.”

In the footage, a woman reporter told him that the information came from “open sources”.

“For me this a very serious question because this is against the Geneva convention if you are going to get information from my telephone or my Blackberry,” McFaul said.

Visibly riled, he said the situation reflected badly on Russia.

“This is a wild country, it turns out. This is not normal. It does not happen in our country,” he said in a comment he later apologised for on Twitter.

The woman reporter seen on camera recently took part in a smear documentary against opposition protesters aired on NTV, which alleged that the opposition bribed people to attend mass rallies.

US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told a press briefing Thursday that McFaul was wondering how media were “getting word about his schedule,” but did not comment on whether McFaul believed the Russian government was involved.

“I’ll just say he was asking a rhetorical question,” Toner said.