The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has cited an unnamed State Department source as saying that President Donald Trump plans to formally announce Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s deputy John Sullivan as the new US ambassador to Russia.
According to the source, Moscow has already agreed “to accredit Sullivan to serve in the post - a precursor to a formal nomination.” The White House declined to comment on the matter.
The source claimed that in his current capacity, the 59-year-old conducts several dialogues with Russia, including those related to countering terrorism and strategic security issues. Earlier this year, Sullivan met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to discuss arms control in light of the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The WSJ source also argued that it was Sullivan who played a key role in expelling 60 Russian diplomats from the US after last year’s poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.
Also last year, Sullivan went on a tour of Eastern Europe, where he told reporters that he sees Russia’s influence in the region as both “destabilizing” and “malign.”
At the same time, Sullivan told a press conference at the 2018 G7 summit in Toronto that “there are a number of areas where we still need to have a dialogue with Russia,” including counterterrorism, a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
In a separate development, he similarly attacked Russia by accusing it of “invading its neighbours” and “undermining the sovereignty of Western nations.”
“We once again urge Russia to end its brutal occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the abuses perpetrated by Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbass region,” he claimed. Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusations, stressing, in particular, that Russia is not a side in the Ukraine conflict. Crimea re-joined Russia after a 2014 referendum, when almost 97 percent of the region's population voted for the reunification. Crimea’s Sevastopol, which has federal city status, supported the move with 95.6 percent of the vote.
Sullivan co-chaired the global law firm Mayer Brown’s national security practice before being nominated as then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s deputy in April 2017.
During his confirmation hearing, Sullivan proposed a “robust” response to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, calling it an “intrusion into our democracy.” A major investigation led by Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller failed to find sufficient evidence to prove allegations of a conspiracy between the Trump team and Russia to rig the 2016 elections.
Trump Touts Sullivan as 'Very Respected' Person to Become New Russian Ambassador
While the New York Times describes Sullivan as a person who has “limited diplomatic experience dealing with Moscow,” Trump insisted that the Deputy Secretary of State “very well could be" the next US ambassador to Russia.
“He’s somebody that’s being put up and respected. To Russia? Yeah. Very respected,” Trump said in August when asked whether Sullivan could be his official of choice to replace Joe Huntsman who announced his resignation earlier that month.
“Well I know that [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo likes him very much and he’s very respected. He could very well be, yeah,” Trump said, referring to Sullivan.
Sullivan's alleged nomination comes as relations between Russia and the US have been at what officials from both nations called the lowest point since the Cold War.
Washington has introduced multiple rounds of sanctions against Moscow, accusing it of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and aggressive actions against Ukraine, accusations that Russia vehemently denies.