World / Politics

U.S. envoy to Russia Jon Huntsman steps down, frustrated with battered ties

Reuters, AP

Moscow called outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman a professional diplomat late Tuesday, but said he had been unable to improve battered Russia-U.S. ties because he had been hamstrung by domestic U.S. politics, the TASS news agency reported.

Huntsman, who was appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017, said in a resignation letter circulated by U.S. media that he was stepping down after a two-year tenure overshadowed by U.S. sanctions on Moscow and tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

His stint in Russia came at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow hit a post-Cold War low and were strained over everything from Syria to arms control and allegations, denied by Russia, that Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump win.

“Huntsman is a professional,” TASS cited the Foreign Ministry as saying.

“Unfortunately, the domestic political situation in the United States did not make it possible to realize the existing potential in bilateral relations,” it said.

Huntsman, who is due to leave his post on Oct. 3, said in his resignation letter that “we must continue to hold Russia accountable when its behavior threatens us and our allies.”

Huntsman, a one-time Republican presidential candidate, used to chair the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank that has sometimes been sharply critical of Russian domestic and foreign policy.

Russia said last month it was preparing to ban the Atlantic Council, which Russia’s prosecutor general has described as a security threat.

Huntsman is planning to return to Utah amid speculation that he may again run for governor, said Salt Lake Chamber President Derek Miller, who served under him during his previous tenure.

Huntsman, a Republican, left the Utah governor’s office in 2009, when former President Barack Obama tapped him as ambassador to China. He was popular in the state and had been elected to his second term the year before.

Huntsman mounted a brief run for president in 2011.

Ahead of his expected return to Utah, it’s unclear whether Huntsman would seek to return to the governor’s mansion in 2020, but if he does he step into the race he would have immediate credibility and popularity, Miller said.

“I think he’s looking at it very closely,” he said.

A recent poll from the Salt Lake Chamber found Huntsman nearly tied with the first declared candidate, Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, in a hypothetical general election, but trailing him among GOP voters who will decide the party nomination, Miller said.

Cox said in a statement Tuesday that he’s glad Huntsman has decided to return. “If he decides to run for governor again, it would make me a better candidate,” Cox said.

Other potential gubernatorial candidates include retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, both Republicans.