Madison Native Nominated As U.S. Ambassador To Russia

John Tefft Has Been Working In Foreign Service Since 1972

U.S. Foreign Service Officer John Tefft speaking in the Ukraine, where he served as ambassador through last year. Photo: U.S. Embassy Kyev Ukraine (CC-BY-ND).

President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he is nominating a Madison native to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia.

John Tefft, who was born and raised in Madison, graduated from Marquette University in 1971. Tefft has worked as a foreign service officer ever since, serving as U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Georgia and, most recently, Ukraine.

Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, first met Tefft nearly 30 years ago in the European bureau of the State Department. He said Tefft will have to collaborate with Moscow on issues like Iran’s nuclear policy and stability in Afghanistan, at a time when the United States and Russia are at odds over Ukraine.

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“He’s going to Moscow at a very difficult time,” said Pifer. “I’d say that the U.S.-Russia relationship unfortunately is probably at its most difficult point since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”

Pifer said Tefft is well-equipped to face those challenges.

“He has a talent, which is not all that common, to go in and give very difficult and very hard messages,” said Tefft. “But at the end of the day the person receiving that message accepts the message, and may not like the message but does not want to shoot the messenger.”

Tefft’s nomination awaits confirmation by the Senate.

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