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Obama's Russia Envoy Nominee: U.S. Will 'Never Accept' Crimea Takeover

John Tefft, pictured in May 2012, when he was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine
John Tefft, pictured in May 2012, when he was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

WASHINGTON -- The nominee to be next U.S. ambassador to Russia says the United States will "never accept" the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and cannot ignore Russia's actions in the Ukraine crisis.

John Tefft said during a July 29 confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the annexation has "shredded the very fabric" of European security.

"The U.S. can't ignore the fundamental challenge to the international order posed by Russia's actions in the Ukraine crisis," Tefft told the hearing.

The United States has been without an ambassador to Russia since February.

The subsequent months have seen the Ukraine crisis plunge U.S.-Russia ties to lows unprecedented since the Cold War.

U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Tefft earlier this month to succeed Michael McFaul, who left the Moscow post in February after the Sochi Winter Olympics.

His nomination is not expected to face resistance. Senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said during the July 29 hearing that Tefft’s confirmation should be expedited.

"It would be my hope that the leadership could work in agreement to send an ambassador to Russia," said Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), the committee's chairman, told the hearing.

Some senators spoke of getting Tefft approved by the Senate before it goes on recess on August 1.

Tefft is seen by many in Moscow as hostile toward the Kremlin, a suspicion that stems largely from his previous stints as ambassador in Ukraine and Georgia.

In both countries he served as a key point man in dealing with pro-Western governments that rose to power behind what Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissively calls the "color revolutions," which the Kremlin accused Washington of orchestrating.

During his testimony Tefft, 64, noted the dismal state of bilateral ties with Russia.

"Our relations with Russia today are serious trouble and their future is uncertain," he said.

Tefft added that the "horrendous shootdown" of the Malaysia Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine -- for which the U.S. government blames pro-Russian separatists -- underscores the importance of resolving the Ukraine crisis "quickly and peacefully."

"In this environment I believe we must continue to talk clearly to our Russian interlocutors, and to make sure Russian officials and citizens understand American policy, our interests, and our values," he said.

Unlike McFaul, who was a political appointee, Tefft is a career foreign-service officer with more than 40 years of diplomatic experience.

During his confirmation hearing, Tefft stressed the importance of understanding the Kremlin's motivations in order to effectively navigate tattered bilateral ties.

"Managing this crisis effectively and wisely will require that our own government continues to know as precisely as we can what the Russian side is thinking, what their objectives are, and why they are taking the approaches that they do, even when we find them unacceptable," Tefft told lawmakers.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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