Donald Trump's choice of Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state is proof that his administration will take a new approach to U.S. policy toward Russia, as he hinted during the campaign. The dismay about that shift in the expert and intelligence community may be a good sign: The same experts and spies have led the Obama administration into a series of missteps that have embarrassed the U.S. and helped advance President Vladimir Putin's agenda.

Tillerson is an old Russia hand but not in the sense the U.S. foreign policy community would attach to that phrase. Although the Texan doesn't hold a degree in Russian studies or even speak the language, his stint at the Russian division of Exxon Mobil helped propel him to the company's top management. He is behind the revival of the Sakhalin project, started in the mid-1990s as a production-sharing agreement, though it was stalled when the Russian government expressed doubts about the format.

He is also behind the more recent cooperation with Rosneft, the state-controlled oil company. These highlights of Tillerson's career brought him into contact with Putin's inner circle and he was awarded the Order of Friendship by the Russian president himself when Putin had few American friends.