The nightmare inbox awaiting Jon Huntsman, Trump's man in Moscow

Who is Jon Huntsman?
Who is Jon Huntsman?

    JUST WATCHED

    Who is Jon Huntsman?

MUST WATCH

Who is Jon Huntsman? 00:45

Story highlights

  • Sources tell CNN that Jon Huntsman will be Trump's ambassador to Russia
  • Huntsman, a Republican, previously served as ambassador to China under Obama

Moscow (CNN)Jon Huntsman, if confirmed as US President Donald Trump's pick for ambassador to Russia, will have a bulging inbox when he turns up for work in Moscow.

Whether it's hacking, missile deployments, Syria or Ukraine, there will be plenty of briefing papers awaiting Washington's new man in Russia.
    Just as challenging for Huntsman will be dealing with various constituencies back home in Washington.
    Trump has frequently said that he wants a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin, though he has complained that in the present atmosphere that's less likely.
    Others in the administration -- especially at the Department of Defense and in the National Security Council (NSC) -- might be described as Russia hawks.
    As the former envoy to China under the Obama administration, Huntsman has plenty of experience in dealing with a powerful state that has a range of complex and often competing relationships with the US.
    And although Huntsman's expertise is in the Asia-Pacific region, not Russia, he knows how the federal bureaucracy works.
    Huntsman is a "remarkably good choice" at a time when American attitudes toward the Kremlin are becoming increasingly polarized, according to former US ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering.
    "We have demonized contacts with Russia," Pickering told CNN Thursday. "We are caught on the horns of a dilemma -- some people want to see (Russia) as the next implacable enemy, with no possibility of any working with them."
    "Others want to glorify (Trump) as the new messiah on the scene ... a wonderful guy we can all deal with. Neither of those views have any real sense of reality."
    "Jon Huntsman is an individual who can bring a great sense of reality -- he understands international politics as well as anybody I know and I think he's a remarkably good choice for this job."

    Moscow reacts

    Putin spokesman on US-Russia relations
    Putin spokesman on US-Russia relations

      JUST WATCHED

      Putin spokesman on US-Russia relations

    MUST WATCH

    Putin spokesman on US-Russia relations 02:58
    Asked Thursday about the likely appointment of Huntsman, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov offered the usual bromides.
    "We would welcome any head of the US embassy in Moscow who will be strongly committed to idea of a dialogue with Moscow," he said.
    Others have been less welcoming. Outspoken Russian Senator Alexey Pushkov noted that Huntsman had been Chairman of the Atlantic Council think tank, "where tough criticism of Russia has became a norm. Definitely not a dove," he tweeted.
    Huntsman will be well aware of a recent predecessor's experience. Michael McFaul, who was ambassador between 2012 and 2014, found himself subsequently banned from entering Russia because of what Russian news agencies called his "active participation in the destruction of the bilateral relationship and relentless lobbying in favor of a campaign to pressure Russia," according to Reuters.
    McFaul tweeted that he was on "the Kremlin's sanctions list because of my close affiliation with Obama." At least Huntsman is in the clear on that front.
    Here are the biggest issues that could cross his desk in the coming months.

    The war on terror

    Trump vows to abolish radical Islamic terrorism
    Trump vows to abolish radical Islamic terrorism

      JUST WATCHED

      Trump vows to abolish radical Islamic terrorism

    MUST WATCH

    Trump vows to abolish radical Islamic terrorism 02:37
    The war on terror is probably the easiest issue on which the US and Russia can agree, at least in principle. Both governments have an interest in eradicating ISIS.
    In his inauguration speech in January, Trump pledged to "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth."
    On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly asked,"Wouldn't it be nice if we got along with Russia? Wouldn't it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?"
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has welcomed Trump's approach to foreign policy.
    "If we look at Donald Trump's foreign policy, the most important will be the fight against terrorism," he said at a press conference in January.
    "We welcome that," he continued, noting that in the second term of the Obama administration, "our relations [with the US] were not friendly."
    But the devil will be in the detail, because it will involve cooperating in the chaos that is Syria.

    Syria

    Russia mistakenly bombs US-backed forces
    Russia mistakenly bombs US-backed forces

      JUST WATCHED

      Russia mistakenly bombs US-backed forces

    MUST WATCH

    Russia mistakenly bombs US-backed forces 01:20
    US and Russian goals in Syria have been different to the point of opposite.
    The US has backed (unsuccessfully) a range of moderate rebel factions, while Russia has supported the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes and special forces for the past two years.
    But the Trump administration appears less inclined to back the rebels and demand Assad's removal.
    There may be scope here for cooperation: Russia wants help in developing a peace process, and the US wants less Iranian influence in Syria.

    Ukraine and Crimea

    The Cold War: Then and now
    The Cold War: Then and now

      JUST WATCHED

      The Cold War: Then and now

    MUST WATCH

    The Cold War: Then and now 01:40
    The ongoing conflict in Ukraine -- and diplomatic war of words over Crimea -- is at a stalemate.
    On the campaign trail, Trump floated the idea of reviewing US sanctions against Russia, imposed after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and even suggested he might recognize Crimea as Russian territory.
    But senior figures in Trump's administration have dismissed those ideas and have voiced strong support for Ukraine.
    While Putin's annexation of Crimea was slammed by most of the world as illegal, the move was wildly popular at home, and there's no chance of Moscow bending on this.
    But the Republican establishment in the US has drawn its own red line on concessions over Ukraine and Crimea.

    Missile deployments

    Russia testing Trump with spy ship, missile
    Russia testing Trump with spy ship, missile

      JUST WATCHED

      Russia testing Trump with spy ship, missile

    MUST WATCH

    Russia testing Trump with spy ship, missile 01:37
    The White House is worried by Russia's deployment of a new intermediate missile, which US arms control negotiators say contravenes a decades-long treaty.
    Just Wednesday, Gen. Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the new cruise missile "presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe" and had been "deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility."
    That's tough language, and Putin spokesman Peskov responded in kind on Thursday.
    "We've got a completely different architecture of possible threats to our security," Peskov told reporters. "Nevertheless Russia still remains committed to its obligations, so we disagree and reject any accusations on this point."
    Beneath this dispute is a much more aggressive Russian attitude toward the expansion of NATO and the military alliance's deployment of missile defense systems in Romania.

    Russia investigations

    Poll: 55% worried about Trump team, Russia
    Poll: 55% worried about Trump team, Russia

      JUST WATCHED

      Poll: 55% worried about Trump team, Russia

    MUST WATCH

    Poll: 55% worried about Trump team, Russia 01:40
    Depending on what US investigations into alleged Russian meddling during the 2016 election turn up, the fallout could be the US ambassador's most explosive challenge.
    The US intelligence community was candid in its report, commissioned by the outgoing Obama administration, about Russia's conduct during the campaign.
    "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said.
    Russian officials have consistently denied any attempt to influence the election campaign. But the response of the White House and Congress to whatever the investigations could disclose will likely shape the course of US-Russian relations for the next several years.
    Huntsman will have the daily task of managing those relations. Like so much else with Russia, just how this will pan out is impossible to predict.
    UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that Alexey Pushkov is a Russian Senator.