US ambassador to Russia leaving post

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U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said Tuesday he would leave his post at the end of February, shortly after the completion of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

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“I love my job here. It has been a tremendous honor to represent my country in Russia and I made this decision with a heavy heart,” McFaul said in a statement. “I will greatly miss interacting with my partners in the Russian government and with Russians from all sectors of society and business. I also will miss being part of a fantastic team at Embassy Moscow.”

The five-year Obama administration veteran said that the retirement stemmed from family concerns. His wife and sons had returned to the U.S. last summer for his oldest son’s schooling.

McFaul, among the highest-profile U.S. diplomats thanks to his extensive use of social media, retires amid growing tensions between Moscow and Washington. Recent months have seen President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin clash over Russia’s decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Syria’s civil war, and Russia’s anti-gay laws. The U.S. has also expressed concern over Russia’s ties to the regime in Iran, and the possibility that Moscow is undermining attempts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

But McFaul also helped broker a deal between the U.S. and Russia reducing both nations’ nuclear arms stockpiles, oversaw a 60-percent growth in trade between the two nations, and struck an agreement on a new visa regime. During his tenure, Russia also joined the World Trade Organization.

On Tuesday, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes hailed McFaul as “tireless in advocating for the universal values that America stands for around the world, reaching out to civil society, and recognizing the right of every voice to be heard.”

"President Obama is deeply grateful for Ambassador McFaul's extraordinary service over the last five years,” Rhodes said in a statement.

“From the White House to Spaso House, Mike helped shape policies that advanced America's interests -- from the New START treaty, to resupplying our troops in Afghanistan; from sustaining U.S.-Russian cooperation on negotiations with Iran, to deepening trade and commercial ties.”