Michael McFaul, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, meets with Alto Students

Alto International School welcomed former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, to talk with our high school students. The lively morning discussion included everything from Mr. McFaul’s experience living in Russia, his work for the Obama White House to the current state of affairs between the United States and Russia.

Ambassador McFaul, currently Professor of International Studies at Stanford University, was the official voice of the United States in Moscow from 2012 to 2014 under President Obama. He helped shape Obama’s Russia policy while working as Special Advisor to the President, trying to amend the drift in relations under President Bush and Putin. Before his time as Ambassador in Russia, Mr. McFaul lived and studied for many years in Russia, even during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. More recently, he published his autobiography, “From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia,” (signed copies are available in the school library) detailing his experiences in Russia and his work under President Obama. Mr. McFaul is also an analyst for NBC News and a contributing columnist to The Washington Post.

The discussion, moderated by high school junior Felix Weber, ranged from Mr. McFaul’s encounters with Vladimir Putin, his view of the current presidency of Donald Trump to his personal experiences with the Russian people and his thoughts on the future. He shared his observations and insights on Putin’s view of the world and the people around him, including a fun demonstration of Putin’s body language. We also discussed Mr. McFaul’s new book, and when asked why he chose this specific title, he said that he wanted to underpin the idea that the relationship between our country and Russia/USSR, has simultaneously both changed and stayed the same. As an example, he discussed how both the United States and Russia have committed themselves to decrease their nuclear arsenal but that there is still a qualitative arms race going on to develop more technologically sophisticated weapons.

When asked about the future, and what we, as high schoolers, could do to help shape the future of democracy, he reminded us of the many people, who fought for their freedom to vote and sometimes risked their lives for it. He shared the story of Boris Nemtsov, who was a friend of his and a vocal critic of the increasingly authoritarian, undemocratic Russian regime. Boris Nemtsov was assassinated in 2015. Mr. McFaul’s message to us was that one should never forget about our right to vote and that when we do vote, to think not only of the United States but also of those who have yet to gain their freedom.

Felix Weber, Grade 11 Student (IB Diploma HL History)
Richard Goulding, History Teacher

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