The US Senate has unanimously approved John Tefft as the United States’ new ambassador to Russia. A seasoned diplomat who has won the reputation of a staunch critic of Moscow, Mr. Tefft describes his mission as an uphill battle talking of “the most challenging times in US-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War”.
Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor correspondent in Moscow, and Andrei Fyodorov, the former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, the Director of the Center for Political Research Foundation, shared their opinions with Radio VR.
What can Tefft do for the Russia-US relations?
Fred Weir: The character of the guy, his reputation and just the fact that he will be here will have an impact of the relationship. I think this is a professional diplomat, very tough guy being sent at a time when things can hardly be worse. And he will have to give the appearance of managing it.
The problem with McFaul was that he was too eager to impress too many friends here. He perhaps didn’t think twice before speaking in front of a microphone. I don’t think we will have any of those problems now.
As I understand John Tefft retired from the position of the US Ambassador to Ukraine one year ago. But all of a sudden we realize that he is sent to Moscow. Why is that?
Fred Weir: I don’t know. But I have a sense that they do not have experienced people in this region, that there is a real shortage of Russia-guys in the State Department. I guess it may have something to do with that.
Do you think that the “you break it, you fix it” tendency would still prevail?
Fred Weir: I think we are definitely in a downward spiral. There is no light at the end of the tunnel here and I fear that this can go on for quite a long time. I don’t think we are in a cold war situation yet. There are many elements missing, there were so many things about the Soviet Union and its global role that do not apply to Russia. And the US is a very different place from the one in 1989. So, I don’t think we can go back to that. But, nevertheless, we are having some very scary developments that are reminiscent of that.
What is it about this man and why do you think his candidature was chosen for this position at this time?
Andrei Fyodorov: The question is another one, I think. We should separate two sides. One side is that he is an absolutely effective professional. He is a career diplomat and he knows the CIS and Russia quite well. The other thing is that his critics against Russia, was mainly when he was outside of Moscow. Being inside Moscow I think he will be in certain ways much more flexible.
I don’t agree that he is ambassador of “cold peace”. I think that he is the ambassador of the “cool peace”. Cold peace will come later and cold war will come later on.
The problem is that in this very situation such kind of person is really needed, because in comparison to McFaul, Tefft could be a channel of communication, first of all. He will not be the person who will form the Russian policy in the US, because he is not that type of man. He will be I think able to give quite objective information about what is going on in Moscow and he will form the ground for the decisions in Washington. This is the main task for him at this stage.
The other thing we should understand is that he is coming in the time, when a conflict between the US is becoming more multisided. It is not only Ukraine, it is missiles, it is Afghanistan and it is many other things. The relations between the US and Russia, as they traditionally are, are not so important now. The question is the relationship between Russia and the US at the international scene.
And the other thing that I should mention is that he will develop much more contacts with the Russian political figures, with the experts, because he is the man who is trying to have as much as possible, multichannel information. So, he doesn’t want to make the decisions on his own. And from this point of view, I think it will be quite interesting to look at the first round of his meetings when he will come to Moscow, and to see a certain vision of how he might act.
The ambassador’s role is very important as the channel of communication. But the problem is the other. Sometimes only in the country where you are the ambassador, you can get the information which can change the policy. And form this point of view sometimes ambassadors are receiving such type of sensitive information, which is very important for the decision making. And I think that for the new ambassador the main problem in Moscow will be that his contacts with our top officials will more on the negative points than on the positive ones. And he is a proper man.