He would also be something of a break from the past – as The New York Times reported, every envoy to Moscow over the last three decades except one has been a career diplomat. (That includes John Beyrle, the current ambassador.)

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The Times first reported that Obama had chosen McFaul, a well-known Russia expert who has taught at Stanford and is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. McFaul has also written extensively about Russia.

He would head to Russia after the Senate late last year passed New Start, an arms control treaty between the two countries. In the coming months, the two countries are also expected to look at Russia’s desire to enter the World Trade Organization and missile defense issues in Europe.