The Trump administration is expected to appoint a special envoy for directly communicating with a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new report.
The envoy’s job would involve negotiating with Surkov over ending the three-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine, which began when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in the country.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment Friday on whether the administration would appoint an envoy for working with Surkov.
The United States sanctioned Surkov in 2014 for his involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
BuzzFeed said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would oversee the envoy’s selection for a full-time role likely including supporting staff.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel supports opening the channel, according to the report, and raised the idea while meeting President Trump at the White House in March.
The Obama administration also maintained a channel with Surkov, with Victoria Nuland serving as the U.S. envoy.
Nuland, a Senate-confirmed career foreign officer, held the title of assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
BuzzFeed added Nuland discussed implementing the Minsk Agreements, a package of measures aimed at resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists, with Surkov.
The U.S. is not a signatory to the agreements, Buzzfeed noted, so the direct line helped Washington exert pressure on Moscow to fulfill the document’s pledges.
Russia is under intense congressional and media scrutiny following FBI Director James Comey’s announcement last month his bureau is probing Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential race.
The FBI’s investigation will reportedly include whether there was any collusion between Russian officials and members of Trump’s campaign.