WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama said Thursday that he is returning to service a career diplomat deeply experienced in eastern Europe to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Obama's announcement that he is tapping John Tefft for the high-profile diplomatic post comes amid a crucial period in U.S.-Russia relations, which have been severely tested over President Vladimir Putin's actions in neighboring Ukraine, among other issues. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been without an ambassador since February.
Senate confirmation is required for the post.
Tefft would bring his decades of experience in eastern European affairs to the post, having served most recently as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in Obama's first term. Immediately before that, Tefft was the U.S. ambassador to Georgia during the administration of George W. Bush.
Tefft has been the deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs at the State Department, an international affairs adviser at the National War College and the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania during the Bush administration. Tefft also was the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, among his other foreign service assignments.
Since 2013, the graduate of Marquette and Georgetown universities has been executive director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum at the RAND Corp., a nonprofit that analyzes public policy.
The U.S. ambassador's post in Russia has been vacant since earlier this year, when Michael McFaul stepped down after a turbulent two years in the Russian capital. McFaul is a Stanford University professor and the architect of Obama's effort to reset relations with Russia. But Obama's relationship with Putin has been anything but smooth.
The U.S. and its European allies each have sanctioned Russian businesses and individuals, including some members of Putin's inner circle, after Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine earlier this year. The U.S. and the European Union have condemned Putin's act as an illegal land grab and have refused to recognize it.
The U.S. and its allies continue to call on Russia to work with the new government in Ukraine to ease tensions between the two countries, and for Russia to end its support for pro-Russia separatists who are blamed for destabilizing eastern Ukraine. They have threatened to slap additional sanctions on Russia unless Putin takes steps to help restore order to eastern Ukraine.
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