New US ambassador wants results in Moscow
Next month, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will take up his new post as ambassador to Russia. Though 2020 might be the Trump administration's final year, Sullivan has significant ambitions anyway.
He has three focuses: reaching accord with Russia on issues of mutual concern, expanding dialogue at various levels, and ensuring that Russia understands it will face serious consequences for any aggressive targeting of the 2020 election. While it's highly unlikely that Russian President Vladimir Putin will somehow decide he wants rapprochement, there are good reasons to think Sullivan can make progress in Moscow.
First off, both Russia and the United States have expressed interest in extending the 2010 New START nuclear forces treaty. Limiting each nation to the deployment of just over 1,500 nuclear warheads, the treaty must be extended by February 2021 or it will expire. But the challenge here is not simply in sitting down with the Russians and hammering out a new deal. The U.S. must also ensure that Russia abides by an extended treaty. That question is crucial in light of Russia's recent disdain for arms treaty obligations. Russia recently spent years in breach of the INF treaty until the U.S. withdrew in protest. Sullivan will now have to take the lead in supporting U.S. negotiators who visit Russia and leading discussions in Moscow.
Then, there's the election issue.
With Russia likely to double down on its election strategy of fostering U.S. voter animosity, Washington must establish clear deterrence redlines. Sullivan will have to play a central role as the regular face and voice of these warnings.
Another opportunity comes with counterterrorism.
U.S. intelligence services have saved numerous Russian lives in recent years by providing intelligence on terrorists. Sullivan has taken the lead in trying to get greater reciprocity but wants to advance the process. And if he can build an effective working relationship with top doorkeepers to Putin's presidential administration office, progress will be possible. The U.S. and Russian militaries already have strong person-to-person relationships between some senior officers, but Sullivan will want to build on that effort. The key to progress in Russia is getting in front of the right people.
None of this will be easy, of course. Russia remains an ardent U.S. adversary on most foreign policy issues. Addressing that reality for what it is must be considered the first priority of any U.S. official dealing with Moscow. But, there is no point in stepping away from areas of possible compromise if such opportunities present themselves.
The deputy secretary of state has a strong record; let's hope he can bring that to Moscow.