The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 33 recipient may not like the message but doesn’t want to shoot the messenger.” How do you do that? JFT: That was a wonderful compliment from Steve, one of the very best diplomats I ever worked with. Throughout my career, I always tried to be as professional as possible. For me and my staff, the situation in Moscow in 2014 placed a high premium on the need for professionalism. I had no illusions about the new assignment. I knew that we were in for a tough time. Our relationship had been strained before the Crimean invasion. Now it was nearly frozen. We were often harassed, and we were attacked in the Russian press. I tried to convey messages, both official and personal, in a candid but transparent manner. The same was true in our interactions with Russian media. There was a lot of emotion and anger that the U.S. did not just accept what the Russians thought was their right, not to mention the sanctions we had imposed on Russia. FSJ: During that period, the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered the U.S. to cut down staff significantly, leading to closure of consulates and the departure of many staff, both U.S. diplomats and locally employed staff. This must have been so hard. How did you manage this and keep the embassy functioning? JFT: Right at the end of my assignment, the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered us to reduce our staff at the embassy and at the three consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok to the same level of personnel at the Russian embassy and consulates in the U.S. The Russians did not employ Americans at their facilities, but we did have many Russian employees, so the cuts were severe. This new draconian Russian order forced us to cut nearly two-thirds of our staff. Subsequent ordered cuts reduced our staff even more and forced the closing of our consulates general. Our new deputy chief of mission (DCM), Anthony Godfrey, did a masterful job working with the section chiefs and agency heads, laying out a clear set of embassy objectives and needs, and then deciding which employees we needed to keep to meet those criteria. The choices we had to make were difficult and traumatic for American and Russian employees alike. Officers who had just arrived were asked to go home, while others who were in training in Washington had their assignments canceled. Many of our Russian staff were let go. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson authorized a generous severance package of one-half year of salary and health benefits for our Russian employees. Some of the employees went to work with Russian firms, which then provided contracted custodial and other services to the embassy. They were able to continue working. For many others, it was a sudden and tragic end to their career at the U.S. embassy. We had a number of town hall meetings where I tried to explain the rationale behind John and Mariella Tefft (right) with former Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko and his wife, Katya, after a dinner at the Yushchenko residence in 2012. From left: Stanford University Professor Larry Diamond; President Yushchenko; Katya Yushchenko; Christine Tefft, the ambassador’s daughter; Ambassador Tefft; and Mariella Tefft. COURTESY OF JOHN TEFFT The situation in Moscow in 2014 placed a high premium on the need for professionalism. I had no illusions—I knew that we were in for a tough time.