Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak arrives ahead of  an address by President Donald Trump to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017.

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Russia: Change of ambassador has been planned for some time

Kislyak has been at the center of a political firestorm in the US

Atlanta CNN  — 

Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak left the United States for Russia on Saturday after concluding his tour of service as ambassador to the US, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy said,

The move was part of a rotation that had been planned for some time, according to the embassy’s deputy communications chief, Alexey Mosin. Denis Gonchar, minister-counselor of the Russian Embassy, is currently Charge d’Affaires pending the appointment of a new ambassador, Mosin said.

When Kislyak’s departure was announced last month, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told CNN that the move had been planned for many months. “The changing of an ambassador, especially to a major country, is a question of at least a year. It is all planned in advance. Especially when an ambassador has worked for a long time,” Zakharova said.

Russian state media has reported that Kislyak’s replacement as ambassador will be Anatoly Antonov. He was reportedly approved by the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament in May. Anatov had been serving as Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister and is seen as a heavy hitter. He was previously Russia’s deputy minister of defense.

‘Effective and experienced’

Kislyak trained as an engineer in the USSR before joining the Foreign Ministry in 1977. His first tour of duty as an envoy to the US was between 1985 and 1989, where he specialized in arms control. Kislyak later served as Russia’s ambassador to NATO and as Deputy Foreign Minister. He began serving as Russian ambassador in Washington shortly before President Barack Obama was elected.

The former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said Kislyak had held “all the most important jobs in the Foreign Ministry – except one.” Describing him as “effective and experienced,” McFaul added, “You’re never confused about what country he’s representing.”

The 66-year-old came under the spotlight when his communications with President Donald Trump’s short-lived National Security Adviser Michael Flynn led to Flynn being fired for failing to be entirely up front about them.

Related story: Who is Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States?

Meetings between Kislyak and former Sen. Jeff Sessions – now Trump’s Attorney General – during the 2016 campaign have generated further heat for the Trump administration, despite Sessions’ claims that the meetings were part of his Senate duties and had nothing to do with the campaign.

In March, CNN reported that Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, citing senior US government officials. Russia’s Foreign Ministry strongly rejected the allegations.

CNN’s Jamie Crawford, Tim Lister and Matthew Korade contributed to this report.