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John Sullivan departs post as U.S. ambassador to Russia

Sept. 4, 2022 Updated Sun., Sept. 4, 2022 at 9:04 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and the US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan stand during a ceremony to receive credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 5, 2020.   (ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and the US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan stand during a ceremony to receive credentials from newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 5, 2020.  (ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO)
By Amy B. Wang Washington Post

John Sullivan, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia as President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and returned full-scale war to the European continent, has left his post and departed Moscow, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement Sunday.

“Following his departure, he will retire from a career in public service that has spanned four decades and five U.S. presidents, including service as the Deputy Secretary of State and in senior positions at the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Commerce,” the statement said.

Sullivan’s departure was abrupt, and there had been no prior earlier indication his retirement was imminent. He was appointed U.S. ambassador to Russia by former President Donald Trump in December 2019 and served for nearly three years after President Biden asked him to stay on.

During Sullivan’s tenure, relations between Russia and the United States – and between Russia and most of the Western world – reached their worst point at least since the end of the Cold War.

The United States warned for months that Russia was planning to invade its neighbor, but Putin was undeterred and warned of “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” should other countries interfere. The war has also raised fears that Russia could use a nuclear weapon.

On Saturday, Sullivan had attended the Moscow funeral of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, whom he described as “a statesman who changed the world through his vision of peaceful coexistence and transformation in his country and the rest of the world.”

A State Department official and a Biden administration official, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, confirmed Sullivan’s departure.

“Ambassador Sullivan’s departure is planned and part of a normal diplomatic rotation,” the State Department official said. “He has served a full tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, managing one of the most critical bilateral relationships in the world during unprecedented times. The U.S. will continue to condemn unequivocally the Kremlin’s aggressive war against Ukraine and remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The White House official noted Sullivan had served in his post for almost three years, a typical tour length for most other ambassadors to Russia. Sullivan was nominated to his post during the previous administration, and Biden had asked him to remain, the official added.

Elizabeth Rood, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, will assume duties as chargé d’affaires there until Sullivan’s successor arrives, the U.S. Embassy said. Last month, Rood was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan and is awaiting Senate confirmation to that post.

Sullivan arrived in Russia in January 2020, just before the end of Trump’s term in office, during a time when relations between the United States and Russia were already tense.

Though he was involved in many major policy and management decisions, Sullivan was best known to the public as the State Department official who told Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, that she had been yanked home prematurely not because she had done anything wrong but because Trump simply “lost confidence” in her.

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello, Missy Ryan and Ashley Parker contributed to this report.

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