Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump on Friday named State Department number two John Sullivan to be the US ambassador to Russia, making the veteran Republican a key player in the US president's complicated relationship with Moscow.
Trump announced that Sullivan, a genial lawyer who generates little drama, would replace Jon Huntsman, a former presidential contender who kept a comparatively low profile in Moscow as Trump sought warmer ties with President Vladimir Putin.
Trump had hinted in August that he would nominate Sullivan, saying he was "respected very much" and recommended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Sullivan is a lawyer who served in senior positions under Republican presidents in the Commerce, Defense and Justice Departments.
As deputy secretary of state, Sullivan briefly served as the acting top US diplomat after Trump fired Rex Tillerson and nominated Pompeo.
He is not known for his expertise on Russia but in July led a US delegation that held arms talks with Russia in Geneva, where he voiced concern about Moscow's "development and deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons."
Despite making few waves in Washington, his nomination may face scrutiny in the Senate which needs to confirm him.
Democrats and some Republicans have voiced concern about Trump's efforts to build relations with Putin and will likely seek assurances that he will champion a tough line.
Trump has rejected the findings of the US intelligence community which said that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to support the populist mogul.
The nomination comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry over allegations that he abused his power to pressure Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists, to dig up dirt on domestic political rival Joe Biden.
If Sullivan is confirmed as ambassador, Trump's pick for deputy secretary of state will be watched especially closely.
Republicans are encouraging Pompeo to run for a Senate seat next year in Kansas, meaning that the deputy secretary of state could take over as the top US diplomat for the end of Trump's term.
Huntsman resigned in August, saying he wanted to attend to family and personal demands at home.
In his resignation letter, Huntsman said that the United States "must continue to hold Russia accountable when its behavior threatens us and our allies."