WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said Tuesday that he will nominate Alexander R. Vershbow as ambassador to Russia.

Vershbow, 48, is a Russia specialist who has been U.S. ambassador to NATO since 1997.

He succeeds James Collins, who is retiring from the Foreign Service after almost four years as ambassador in Russia.

Vershbow is fluent in Russian and has headed the Soviet desk at the State Department and the National Security Council. He first served at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow 20 years ago.

Vershbow joined the foreign service in 1977 and has been U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for three years. Before that, he was President Clinton's special assistant for Russian and European affairs.

Vershbow attended Yale University and Columbia University.