First on CNN: Biden to name new ambassador to Russia


President Joe Biden wants to name Lynne Tracy, a career diplomat currently serving in Armenia, as the next US ambassador to Russia, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Tracy, who speaks Russian and was the No. 2 diplomat in Moscow from 2014 to 2017, would be the first woman to hold the role. Since 2019 he is the ambassador of Armenia.

The Biden administration hopes to quickly put him in place to replace John Sullivan, who stepped down earlier this month. His arrival and official appointment will depend on whether Russia agrees to accept him as ambassador at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow as the war in Ukraine continues.

Typically, the host country will approve the name of the ambassador’s selection before officially appointing him through a process called agrément. The U.S. has already given Tracy’s name to the Russians to begin that process, the two sources said.

US officials have indicated that Russia wants to maintain diplomatic relations with the US and could be motivated to accept Tracy without delaying the process to ensure that their ambassador in Washington maintains access.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment.

Tracy’s appointment will completely overhaul the leadership of the embassy in Moscow. Sullivan was not in Russia because he spent most of the summer in the US with his wife who was seriously ill and died last week.

Elizabeth Rood, deputy chief of mission, stands as she attends the trial of basketball star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in August after being convicted of smuggling cannabis. Rood has been nominated to be the next US ambassador to Turkmenistan.

US officials say they plan to immediately put together a strong diplomatic team in Moscow and that the current dynamics of the war in Ukraine do not lend themselves to active US-Russia diplomacy, especially since the Russians have shown no interest in engaging productively.

“At this point we see no indication that Russia will be willing to pursue that diplomacy seriously, but when that time comes, Ukraine will need to be in the strongest possible position,” Secretary of State Tony Blinken said this month. in Brussels

In addition to the war in Ukraine, the issue of Americans detained in Russia is likely to be a key priority for the new ambassador. Sullivan was a key player in securing the release of Trevor Reed. After Reed’s release, he said he was actively involved in efforts to free Griner and Paul Whelan, who are both being held in a Russian prison.

As CNN first reported, the US proposed a prison swap to secure the release of Griner and Whelan.

Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said last week that talks between the U.S. and Russia to secure the release of Griner and Whelan continue “ongoing” despite Sullivan’s departure.

A senior administration official told CNN that the U.S. tabled offers to release Griner and Whelan were made to the Russians “through the same channels we used for Trevor Reed.” The official added that the US “has repeatedly followed up on this offer”.

Although Sullivan’s involvement has waned in recent months, some US officials admit his loss will be felt.

“He’s a great leader, he cared about people and families and as things got difficult in Moscow and a lot of people were expelled and local staff had to go, he doubled down on what he had to do to keep the mission going. He also focused on the Americans who were stuck and trying to get them home as his top priority was maintained,” said a senior US official.

Sullivan also brought some continuity: he was the only political ambassador appointed under former President Donald Trump to remain so long in the Biden administration. His departure was expected, he had been in that role for about two and a half years, but the exact time was also affected by his wife’s illness.

“Sullivan was the only political appointee of the Trump administration to remain, which is a testament to his long history of public service on a bipartisan basis,” the official said.