Washington has confirmed with Moscow that John Tefft will be appointed as the next Ambassador to Russia, succeeding Michael McFaul who had resigned earlier this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senior foreign policy advisor, Yuri Ushakov, told the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS that Moscow would agree to the appointment, paving the way for the Obama administration to place Tefft’s nomination before the US Senate.
Ambassador John Tefft is an experienced member of the US Diplomatic Corp having joined the Foreign Service in 1972 and his most recent posting was as Ambassador to Ukraine from late 2009 to mid-2013. Tefft had previously served in several Moscow Embassy positions as well as his appointment as US Ambassador to Lithuania from 2000 to 2003 and as the US Ambassador to Georgia from 2005 to 2009. He is a graduate of Marquette University in Wisconsin and Georgetown University.
Tefft speaks Russian and Ukrainian and in US circles is widely viewed as a wise choice following what Moscow viewed as the disastrous tenure of the inexperienced Michael McFaul in the position. Mr. Ushakov was cautious about the appointment yet called Tefft a “professional diplomat” and noted Ambassador Tefft’s previous Moscow experience and his Russian-speaking ability.
The announcement came as Russian President Putin is on a diplomatic visit to Cuba and Mr. Ushakov said that Washington had requested Moscow’s approval of John Tefft to be the newly appointed US Ambassador to Russia in June. Ambassadorial appointments require approval of both countries and foreign diplomats are accepted when the host nation formally accepts the credentials of incoming Ambassadors. In Russian tradition foreign ambassadors are received Russia’s president and foreign minister in formal ceremonies held in the magnificent Alexander Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace.
Relations have been severely strained between Russia and the United States since Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in March of this year. The Moscow Times reports that some in Moscow fear that the US has appointed Tefft as an expert in regime-change. Tefft had previously served in Georgia and Ukraine where so called “color revolutions” toppled dictatorial governments in favor of more democratic models. His stint as Ambassador to Georgia came during the short August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
The Russian newspaper Pravda, which was the government’s leading Russian newspaper during the Soviet period, writes that Tefft cannot be trusted as a friend of Russia despite his prior experience in Russia. Like many such publications, Pravda echoed fears that the Obama administration was sending Tefft to foment change in the Russian leadership.
Andrei Kortunov, president of the Moscow based New Eurasia Foundation, told Pravda that Tefft’s opportunities for open dialogue with Russian leaders may be limited due to the perceived failures of the McFaul ambassadorship and the difficulties inherent over the disagreement regarding Crimea and Russia’s involvement in the current conflict in Ukraine. This week several American allies in Europe have been pressuring the Putin government to cease their assistance of separatist rebels operating in Eastern Ukraine.
The appointment of John Tefft as the new Ambassador to Russia has apparently passed the first Russian hurdle but still needs to be confirmed by the United States Senate. It is expected that Mr. Tefft’s wife, Mariella, will join him in Moscow, unlike previous Ambassador McFaul who made a 9,000 kilometer commute each week between Moscow while his family stayed behind in California. Mrs. Tefft is a nurse and the couple has two adult daughters.
By Jim Hanemaayer