Who is Donald Trump's pick for Russia ambassador?
Donald Trump has named Jon Huntsman, the 56-year old former missionary, as his nominee for one of the most sensitive posts in contemporary international diplomacy – US ambassador to Moscow. Telegraph reports in its articlr Who is Jon Huntsman, Donald Trump's pick for Russia ambassador? that if confirmed, Mr Huntsman would take over the post amid ongoing investigations into contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
The son of Jon M Huntsman, the billionaire head of global chemicals producer Huntsman Corporation, Mr Huntsman is a moderate republican who launched a failed bid for the White House in 2012. He was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan for two years in the 1980s, and holds a BA in international politics from the University of Pennsylvania. He speaks Mandarin. He was governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009 and previously served as ambassador to China under Barack Obama between 2009 and 2011, and ambassador to Singapore in 1992 to 1993 under George Bush and Bill Clinton.
What’s his agenda?
Politically, he is a Republican centrist. In April 2016, Mr Huntsman decided to endorse Donald Trump, but then later withdrew his support after recordings were released of the then Republican nominee talking about sexually assaulting women. The White House says the two men have since buried their differences, but some observers suspect Mr Trump is sending him to Moscow to get him out of the way. “It’s a fairly common thing to appoint someone you are afraid might be a political opponent. If someone was going to make a centrist challenge to Trump in next primary, Huntsman might well be the one,” said Sam Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London. There is speculation that Mr Obama offered Mr Huntsman the China posting in 2009 because he was viewed as one of the most dangerous potential Republican challenger ahead of the 2012 election.
Russophile or Russophobe?
Mr Trump has said he wants to repair ties with the Kremlin, fueling speculation that he would appoint an ambassador who shares his vision of a new relationship with Moscow. Unlike some other members of Mr Trump’s team, however, Mr Huntsman is not on record airing strong opinions about Russia and it is unclear whether he share’s the president’s keenness to strike a “deal” with Vladimir Putin. What is known is that he and his family have some business interests there.The Huntsman Corporation has several Russian projects, including a polyurethanes joint venture in Obinsk, southwest of Moscow. Mr Huntsman also sits on the boards of Ford, which has factories across the country, and Caterpillar, which has a large plant in the Leningrad Region outside St Petersburg. As with Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon who Mr Trump appointed secretary of state, there is likely to be some debate about whether this is a boon or a curse. In itself, experience of doing business in Russia should be an advantage, but senators at his confirmation hearing may ask whether it gives the Kremlin leverage over him.
Can he do the job?
A more fundamental question is whether this is a job for someone with limited Russia experience – even one of Mr Huntsman’s capability and experience. Moscow is considered a posting where a deep understanding of diplomatic protocol, history, and professionalism are particularly important. John Tefft, the current US ambassador, was appointed partly for those very qualities after the relationship plunged into crisis in 2014. Michael McFaul, his predecessor and the last non-diplomat to hold the post, was a respected academic Russia specialist but struggled to manage the decline in relations after Barack Obama’s “reset” with Moscow stalled in the early 2010s.