A tense standoff between the Kremlin and the US ambassador to Russia seems to have been averted, at least for the moment. After the United States imposed sanctions last week on the country over hacking American federal agencies and interfering in the 2020 presidential election, including via the expulsion of nearly a dozen Russian diplomats, Russia returned the favor, expelling 10 US diplomats and banning top officials like Attorney General Merrick Garland from coming to Russia. One person who wasn't officially kicked out, however: US Ambassador John Sullivan, who instead had it suggested to him by a Putin foreign policy aide that he head back to DC to talk with US officials, Axios reported Monday. "Sullivan's view," however, per the outlet, "is that if Putin wants him to leave, he'll have to force him," according to sources "familiar with [Sullivan's] thinking."
Over the last day, Sullivan's thinking appears to have shifted. Now the State Department says the ambassador will be heading back to the States, though it stresses it's only a brief trip home, and that he'll head back to Moscow "in the coming weeks," per Axios. "I believe it is important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington," Sullivan, who became US ambassador during the Trump administration, is quoted as saying by a US Embassy spokesperson, per Radio Free Europe. He added: "Also, I have not seen my family in well over a year." Axios notes President Biden is "handling a complicated and increasingly dangerous situation": In addition to the sanctions, the relationship between the US and Russia has been further strained by Russia amassing troops along its border with Ukraine and Crimea, as well as the apparently deteriorating health of dissident Alexei Navalny. (Read more Russia stories.)