*Editor’s note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
Numerous American media sources claim that Joe Biden has already decided on the candidate for the position of the new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Allegedly, it will be Lynne M. Tracy, who fits such a role perfectly for a number of reasons. However, some of the details of her biography raise suspicion about the true nature of her work — potentially dangerous for Russian interests.
Lynne M. Tracy’s possible appointment as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia is a story about optimism and pessimism. About a glass that is half-empty in the eyes of one and half-full in the eyes of another.
There are two interpretations of it — and the more optimistic one is quite simple and trivial.
The reason for the early termination of the term of the previous ambassador, John Sullivan, was his wife’s death from cancer. The new ambassador will be appointed in his stead since someone has to hold this position, and Tracy fits many not-so-strict but desirable criteria.
She knows Russian, studied to become a Sovietologist, and has already worked in Moscow as diplomat No. 2 (meaning that she was the deputy chief of mission) during very challenging times for U.S.-Russia relations — in 2014 to 2017, when Joe Biden served as vice president and informally “curated” the head of state in matters of foreign affairs.
Now Tracy’s job will be far simpler: the range of the U.S. ambassador’s responsibilities has been cut to a minimum. There are no more large meetings, lectures, cultural exchange programs, networking or other “soft power” elements. Creative brainstorming to establish cooperation or devise project recommendations is no longer needed.
The second Cold War is upon us, the embassy staff is minimal while greater attention is paid to intelligence services. All that is left for an ambassador is to serve as a contact person to exchange opinions according to protocols. Ultimately, the think tank has been reduced to a post office.
Basically, the very fact that the two countries still maintain their ambassadors in the “unfriendly” capitals is the optimistic part of our relations — since we could still fall even lower, to further reduction of our cooperation or a complete collapse of our relations. If any work will even be done to normalize these relations, it’ll happen at a much higher level than just ambassadors. The diplomats will return to their usual work no sooner than when the higher-ups agree upon a new detente (which is not yet on the horizon.)
That’s what we were talking about when we mentioned a half-full glass. The half-empty one should please conspiracy theorists.
As people, U.S. ambassadors are often quite open, because in the U.S., politicians are usually assigned to such diplomatic positions. Russia doesn’t have many diplomats like these, betting instead on career professionals. Tracy is one of those professionals. But even for a career-focused U.S. diplomat, there’s surprisingly little information about her.
It’s far from a decisive example, but it’s curious nonetheless: Tracy’s English Wikipedia page has only a list of positions she has formerly held, but it doesn’t even have her birth date.
And she’s not just a nobody; she’s the current ambassador of the U.S. to Armenia (a country on which the U.S. is particularly focused) and a very experienced diplomat who has been presented with departmental awards. One — for her work in Moscow, the other — “Award for Heroism.” In Pakistan’s Peshawar, her car was attacked by a group of gunmen, but she, her driver and her bodyguard all managed to escape alive.
Aside from Russia, Pakistan and Armenia, where she was sent by Donald Trump after Nikol Pashinyan came to power, Tracy worked in Afghanistan, Georgia, and, most importantly, Central Asia — that’s her main profile. Under Barack Obama, she was the one who prepared reports on this region for the U.S. National Security Council.
Hence, we see an extraordinary person but, at the same time, somewhat closed off and seemingly undercover. Tracy is a professional with steel nerves who for a long while meddled in the “soft underbelly” of Russia — from Georgia and Armenia to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — engaging in God-knows-what special projects and consulting the country’s higher-ups on matters of war and peace.
This is not an image of a woman who merely has useful skills in the diplomatic field. This looks more like someone from the Central Intelligence Agency than from the U.S. Department of State — Tracy’s formal place of work, which, among other things, provides cover for CIA officials.
In sum, it doesn’t look like Tracy is among those who are usually appointed to “post office”-like positions. So we can assume that, in Moscow, she has a special mission aside from taking official notes from Smolenskaya Square to Novinskiy Boulevard and back.
Perhaps, this special mission regards her main profile — Central Asia. And here’s an interesting note: almost at the same exact time as CNN got news of Tracy’s new appointment, her colleague from another branch of the U.S. Department of State, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Änjali Kaur, announced the following during hearings in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee:
“All of these priorities we consider critical in order to ultimately decouple the Central Asian economies from the Russian economy, and this should be our goal.”
It’s worth noting here that, in Russian tradition, Central Asia is understood as a large region including, aside from Soviet Central Asia, also a big part of China, Mongolia and the south of Russia. For Americans, it’s just five specific countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, whose economies are now ordered to be “decoupled.”
Perhaps Tracy will be involved in this project in Moscow to some extent. It won’t be easy.
Indeed, Kazakhstan is rapidly expanding its cooperation with the countries of the European Union. Its total trade turnover with the European Union has already exceeded that with Russia; with Germany alone, it practically doubled in a year.
But its ties to the Russian economy are still so extensive that no one will dare to risk them. That would go against the liberal economic reforms program recently announced by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The ultimate goal of these reforms — to simplify the conditions in Kazakhstan for doing business. Most likely, Astana (it’s called Astana again) will use Western sanctions against Russia as a pretext to offer Russian businesses an alternative platform, rather than condemning the stability of its connections with Moscow — one of the keys to Astana’s own successful business.
But relations between Russia and the countries of Central Asia are not limited to economic matters; there are many different aspects to them, including defensive and strategic ones. The “leaked rumors” about Kazakhstan leaving the Collective Security Treaty Organization were also spread just recently.
Officially, Astana has already “firmly denied” the fact that such questions could even be raised. But everyone understands that certain people will try to convince them to do so, pointing out Uzbekistan’s experience (meaning, it left the CSTO and is still doing fine) and offering various benefits from Washington and Brussels.
Whatever the case, the stability of the ties between Russia and the countries of Central Asia is a matter of their leaders’ wisdom and the efforts of Russian foreign policy, and not something Tracy could personally influence significantly.
Whether she is a superspy or an ordinary woman with good knowledge of the Russian language, she’s less harmful to Russian interests in Moscow than in the region of her specialty — Central Asia, with the geopolitical battle for that region between Russia and the U.S. being imminent.