Russia approves new US envoy as tensions high over Ukraine
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Moscow said today it has approved the candidacy of a new US ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, who is known for his support for the pro-Western nations of Ukraine and Georgia. AFP PhotoRussia said Wednesday it had approved the candidacy of the former US ambassador to Kiev as Washington's new envoy to Moscow, at a time of sharply heightened tensions over Ukraine.
If he is approved by the US Senate, veteran diplomat John Tefft -- known for backing the pro-Western aspirations of former Soviet states -- will succeed Michael McFaul, who abruptly 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 ex-Soviet 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.
Described by colleagues as a larger-than-life diplomat "with a steel trap mind," Tefft was deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999.
However, many in Russia will see Tefft'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.
Working in Kiev under then president Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in a pro-Western uprising in February, Tefft sought to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights.
"John was tireless in his efforts to get Ukraine to do the right thing," US deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour, Thomas Melia, said in September.
During his stint in Tbilisi, Tefft accused Moscow of supporting Georgian separatists a year before the war broke out, Britain's Guardian newspaper has reported, citing WikiLeaks. In Georgia, Tefft 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 on Twitter and meetings with Russian opposition activists.
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.
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 said that despite his staunch backing for the Western aspirations of the ex-Soviet nations, Tefft may have an easier time in Russia than his tough-talking predecessor.
"He will keep his opinions to himself. He knows how to behave in various situations including confrontations," said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Kremlin-friendly Council on Foreign and Defence Policy.
"He will do what needs to be done, and that is not much," he said, pointing to dramatically shrinking cooperation between Moscow and Washington.
Tefft was described by Melia as being equally good at cajoling and threatening his counterparts.
"He was always double-tracking," Melia said as he presented Tefft with a human rights award last year.