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Russia Laments Failed Opportunity As U.S. Ambassador To Moscow Steps Down


U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman

MOSCOW -- Russia has lamented a missed opportunity to improve ties with Washington during the tenure of U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., who has resigned his post after just two years amid speculation he could seek to run for political office in his home state of Utah.

Huntsman sent a letter dated August 5 to President Donald Trump announcing his decision to return to the United States, ending two years at the post that were dominated by U.S. sanctions on Russia and a dispute that led to diplomats being expelled from both countries.

"Huntsman is a professional. Unfortunately, the domestic political situation in the U.S. did not make it possible to realize the potential of the bilateral ties," Russia's Foreign Ministry told the TASS news agency.

U.S. media previously reported that Huntsman -- the former governor of Utah -- wanted his old role back. Trump discussed Huntsman's expected departure with Russian President Vladimir last week by telephone.

Huntsman, who will officially leave his post on October 3, could not be reached for comment, but Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce President Derek Miller told AP that Huntsman was looking for places to live in Utah amid speculation of a possible run for state governor.

The State Department confirmed Huntsman's resignation in an e-mail to RFE/RL.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Huntsman during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi on May 14.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Huntsman during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi on May 14.

The ambassador's decision comes amid a period of the worst relations between Washington and Moscow since the end of the Cold War, an environment that hampered his ability to achieve results.

"Ambassador Huntsman has served in Russia during a very difficult, frustrating period. Not much to do in U.S.-Russia relations right now," former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said in a tweet.

Huntsman was tapped by Trump to serve as his envoy to Russia in July 2017, a few months after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller launched his two-year investigation into Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.

Leaks from that investigation generated almost weekly damaging media reports about Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election, casting a huge cloud over bilateral relations and stymieing Trump's efforts to improve relations with the Kremlin, one of his stated foreign policy objectives.

During Huntsman's posting, the U.S. Congress pushed through additional sanctions against Russia for its "malign" activities, including allegations of election interference and the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain.

The U.S. ambassador was criticized for attending Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual economic forum in St. Petersburg in 2018. He did not attend in 2019 after Russia arrested Michael Calvey, one of the most prominent American investors in the country.

Huntsman's job has only gotten tougher as the Kremlin deals with growing problems at home, including a stagnant economy and rising discontent, William Courtney, a former ambassador to Kazakhstan who is currently an analyst at the Washington-based think tank Rand Corp., told RFE/RL.

Russia has faced a series of protests this year over a host of issues including low living standards and, more recently, the barring of opposition candidates from the elections to the Moscow City Duma.

"This is an exceptionally difficult period in dealing with Moscow and the current internal unrest in Russia makes it even tougher for the Kremlin to focus on diplomacy," Courtney said.

The analyst likened the tense atmosphere today between Washington and Moscow to the early 1980s.

Huntsman's posting in Moscow was his third overseas diplomatic role. He served as ambassador to China in 2009-11 and as ambassador to Singapore in 1992-93.

Prior to moving to Beijing, he served as governor of Utah in 2004-09, winning two elections.

During his long public-service career, he has worked in the administrations of five U.S. presidents and was an unsuccessful candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

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    RFE/RL's Russian Service

    RFE/RL's Russian Service is a multi-platform alternative to Russian state-controlled media, providing audiences in the Russian Federation with informed and accurate news, analysis, and opinion.