Russia bans the Atlantic Council formerly headed by Jon Huntsman, America’s ambassador in Moscow

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Jon Huntsman, seen here in 2008 while he was Utah's governor, may again seek the office. Behind him is Gary Herbert who was Lt. Governor at the time.

Washington • The Russian government has banned a U.S.-based think tank previously headed by Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor who now serves as America’s top envoy in Moscow.

The Russian Justice Ministry declared the Atlantic Council as “undesirable,” essentially barring it from working in the country, according to the Russian government-controlled Tass news outlet.

“On July 29, the Russian Justice Ministry has placed the Atlantic Council of the United States on the list of foreign and international nongovernmental organizations, whose activities are declared undesirable on the Russian territory,” the Justice Ministry said.

The ministry said the group was banned because its activities “pose a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order and security."

Huntsman chaired the Atlantic Council for four years before his appointment as the U.S. ambassador to Russia. The ambassador is reportedly considering resigning his post and making another run for Utah governor, a post to which he has been elected twice.

The council, which includes a host of foreign policy experts and aims to foster better relationships among the world’s countries, has served as an “essential forum for navigating the dramatic economic and political changes defining the 21st century by informing and galvanizing its uniquely influential network of global leaders,” according to the group.

The council pushed back on Russia’s assertions and noted that it hadn’t been told it was persona non grata.

"We are proud of the council’s long tradition of work on Russia and with Russians, and are disappointed that Russian authorities have announced this step,” the group's president and CEO, Frederick Kempe, said. “We are looking into the implications of this decision, which a number of our peer organizations have faced in recent years.

Kempe added: “The Atlantic Council stands by its body of work on Russia and we will continue to advance our mission of working together with friends and allies to solve global challenges, in ways consistent with our deepest values. We will continue to be an unwavering voice for a better Russia and the future of its citizens."

The State Department issued a statement raising concerns about Russia's move.

“The United States supports free speech and an open exchange of ideas,” a spokesperson said. “The recent designation of the Atlantic Council imposes new limits on freedom of speech, and it is part of an ongoing crackdown on independent voices and intentional steps to isolate the Russian people from the world.”

Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a brother of the ambassador, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.