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Trump chooses veteran diplomat Sullivan to be envoy to Russia

John J. Sullivan (U.S. Department of State/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he has chosen Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to be Washington’s next ambassador to Moscow.

If Sullivan, the No. 2 person at the State Department, is confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Jon Huntsman, who resigned in August amid speculation that he will run for the governorship in his home state of Utah.

Sullivan would assume the important role amid a spike in tensions between Washington and Moscow over issues including Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war.

Sullivan has held senior positions in the Justice, Defense, and Commerce departments in the administrations of both President George H.W. Bush and his son, President George W. Bush.

Sullivan was mentioned in testimony on October 11 by former U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Marie Yovanovitch as part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.

Yovanovitch said Sullivan was the one who told her that that she was being recalled from her post earlier than scheduled. She said Trump had been pressuring the State Department to remove her since the summer of 2018. She left Ukraine in May.

Trump said in August that he was considering Sullivan for the Russia post. He had also been considered for the position of White House national-security adviser, but that post went to Robert O’Brien, the former U.S. special envoy for hostage affairs.

A career diplomat since 1990, the 59-year-old Sullivan has served in posts in Ukraine, the U.S. mission to the European Union, South Korea, and Honduras.

During the confirmation hearings for his State Department job, Sullivan said he would take a hard line on Russia and called for a “robust” response to Moscow’s “intrusion into our democracy,” referring to U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election through secret social media campaigns and other methods.

He was confirmed by the Senate during that process by a 94-6 vote, indicating that he will likely have little troubling winning confirmation for the new role.