Russia approves new US envoy as tensions high over Ukraine
Moscow said Wednesday it has approved the candidacy of the former US ambassador to Kiev as Washington's new envoy to Russia at a time of sharply heightened tensions over Ukraine.
If he is approved by the US Senate, career diplomat John Tefft will succeed Michael McFaul, who quit his post in February after just two years on the job.
He will take over at a hugely sensitive time, with the two countries locked in a tug-of-war over the fate of the former Soviet state of Ukraine, and Washington threatening Russia with fresh sanctions.
Announcing that Moscow had given its authorisation to Tefft, President Vladimir Putin’s top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov described him as a “first-class diplomat”.
Ushakov, Moscow’s former ambassador to Washington, told reporters that he knew Tefft well, that he used to work in Russia and speaks the language.
Tufft was deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999.
However, many in Russia will see Tufft’s nomination as a snub and Ushakov indicated that the US diplomat’s previous postings had not gone unnoticed.
“The way he behaved in Georgia and Ukraine — I will leave that without comment because everyone is well aware of this,” Putin’s aide said, without elaborating.
Tefft served as US ambassador to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013 and was Washington’s representative in Georgia during its five-day war with Russia in 2008.
In Georgia, Tufft drew praise from those who worked with him.
“John Tefft worked in Georgia during the most critical time,” former national security advisor and deputy foreign minister Giga Bokeria told AFP.
“He believes in America’s strong partnership with Europe — a Europe united and at peace.”
A member of the US Foreign Service since 1972, Tefft also served as US ambassador to ex-Soviet EU member Lithuania from 2000 to 2003.
His predecessor McFaul, a Stanford university professor, frequently sparked Russia’s fury with critical comments and meetings with Russian opposition activists.
McFaul cited personal reasons for his sudden departure but many in Russia said Moscow was more used to dealing with straight-laced career diplomats and found the US academic’s style jarring.
Analysts had interpreted attacks on McFaul by Russian state media and lawmakers as a part of a blunt Kremlin message to Washington that it should keep the tone of its criticism muted.