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Celeste Wallander. Photo: Department of Defense

President Biden is nominating Celeste Wallander as his assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, a crucial position and one of his last remaining foreign policy posts, Axios has learned.

The big picture: By tapping Wallander, president and CEO of U.S.-Russia Foundation, Biden is rounding out his Pentagon team with an academic and Russia expert respected on both sides of the aisle.

  • “Celeste brings great experience in and out of government from both at the Pentagon and the National Security Council, but also in the think-tank world and in academia,” said David Kramer, a former senior State Department official in the second Bush administration.
  • "She has deep policy expertise in key regions, experience in getting things done in the Pentagon, and a track record as a gifted manager and leader," said Michèle Flournoy, an ex-Pentagon official under President Obama. "She will bring excellent judgment and proven experience in defense diplomacy to the job."

Why it matters: The assistant secretary of international security affairs typically travels with the secretary of Defense to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • The job holder ensures the Pentagon's broad — and specific — policy imperatives are conveyed to foreign governments.
  • The assistant secretary also helps approve weapons sales and manage relationships with foreign militaries.

What's next: Wallander will require Senate confirmation and, if approved, will report to Colin Kahl, the under secretary of Defense for policy.

  • While Kahl's nomination sparked controversy with his old social media activity, he was eventually confirmed 49-45.
  • An ultra-marathoner, Wallander received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and doctorate from Yale.

Go deeper: As Obama's Russia director at the NSC, Wallander proposed a range of options in the summer of 2016 to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from further meddling in the U.S. presidential election, according to David Shimer, in his book, "Rigged."

  • More recently, she asserted that Putin is responding to the challenge posed by opposition leader Alexei Navalny from a position of weakness, not strength.

What they're saying: “The leadership is feeling quite insecure at home and abroad,” Wallander told PBS Newshour in April.

Go deeper

Scoop: Milley's blunt private blame for the State Department

Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

In a classified briefing with senators on Tuesday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley directly blamed the State Department for a botched evacuation from Afghanistan, saying officials "waited too long" to order the operation out of Kabul's airport, two sources with direct knowledge of the briefing told Axios.

Why it matters: Those private remarks were far more blunt than Milley's public testimony, in which the nation's top general said the issue of whether the order should have been given earlier is an "open question that needs further exploration."

Kate Marino, author of Markets
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.