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Russia Says New U.S. Sanctions Forced It to Respond

Mr. Putin, in the television interview during which he announced the retaliatory move, said that Russian patience with waiting for relations to improve was at an end.It was a major shift in tone from the beginning of this month, when Mr. Putin met President Trump for the first time at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany.Mr. Trump had talked during his campaign of improving ties with Russia and had praised Mr. Putin, and the Kremlin had expected the face-to-face meeting of the presidents to mark the start of a new era. The immediate assessment in Moscow was that the two had set the stage for better relations.But then, in quick succession, came the expanded sanctions passed by Congress, Mr. Trump’s indication that he would sign them into law and Moscow’s forceful retaliation.In Washington, the State Department issued a statement saying that it was assessing the impact of the Russian measures and how it would respond. The United States Embassy in Moscow declined to comment.Just as in 2014, when Russia reacted to the first Western sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis by banning many Western food imports, it seems that ordinary Russians will bear the brunt of the latest decision.The bulk of the 755 people dismissed are likely to be Russian employees from the embassy in Moscow, as well as from the American consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. It is not clear how many Americans might be expelled, if any.Continue reading the main storyA State Department inspector general’s report in 2013, the last concrete numbers publicly available, said there were 934 “locally employed” staff members at the Moscow Embassy and three consulates, out of a total staff of 1,279 […]

News Analysis: For Trump and Putin, Sanctions Are a Setback Both Sought to Avoid

As one of Mr. Trump’s aides pointed out last week, there is a long history of granting presidents that negotiating leverage when dealing with foreign adversaries.But by constantly casting doubt on intelligence that the Kremlin was behind an effort to manipulate last year’s presidential election, Mr. Trump so unnerved members of his own party that even they saw a need to curb his ability to lift those sanctions unilaterally.On Sunday, Mr […]

A Russian Developer Helps Out the Kremlin on Occasion. Was He a Conduit to Trump?

Mr. Agalarov, 61, also worked on a project with a future president, Donald J. Trump. Last week, the Russian developer and his crooner son and heir, Emin, were thrust into the swirl of speculation about whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.Continue reading the main storyTheir names popped up in emails about arranging a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, but the president and his son have both insisted that nothing of value was provided.“This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin,” wrote Rob Goldstone, a music producer and publicist working for Emin.While there is no indication beyond what was said in the emails that the Agalarovs were serving as a conduit between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, wealthy and well-connected businessmen are often called on to do the bidding of the Russian government.Kremlin analysts stress that its red, crenelated walls conceal not a well-oiled machine but a hornet’s nest of interests and influences competing to dominate an Erector Set of ad hoc policies and sudden opportunities, many of them highly lucrative.When it comes to exploiting those opportunities, the Kremlin often ignores its own bureaucrats, diplomats and other agents in favor of someone it thinks will get the job done — a charmed group whose members rise and fall in status along with their usefulness to Mr. Putin and his top aides.In that context, analysts find it entirely plausible that the Kremlin would tap Mr. Agalarov, a construction tycoon with a web of contacts to Mr. […]

The Interpreter: When the Kremlin Says ‘Adoptions,’ It Means ‘Sanctions’

What connects the two issues? Leverage.It might not seem obvious what sanctions have to do with American parents’ adoptions of Russian children, which is the topic that the younger Mr. Trump initially said Ms. Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss. Their connection comes down to one word: leverage.Continue reading the main storyThe context is the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 American law that freezes the assets held in the United States by Russian officials responsible for human rights abuses. The law also bars these officials from receiving American visas. It was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer who died in pretrial detention after exposing a $230 million tax-theft scam perpetrated by Russian officials.To the law’s backers, the Magnitsky Act was a way to strike a blow for justice. But to Mr. Putin, it seemed like an intolerable attack by the United States government against the stability of his own presidency.Mr. Putin, though powerful, depends on the support of a small circle of powerful elites, in and out of government, who both keep him in power and help him enforce his will […]

Greenpeace 30 might get Russian amnesty — and Pussy Riot might too

Greenpeace 30 might get Russian amnesty — and Pussy Riot might too

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Vladimir Putin appears to be experiencing uncharacteristic feelings of humanity. And that’s wonderful news for a crew of daring Greenpeace activists, among many others.

The Russian president has drafted an amnesty bill, posted on the Kremlin’s website Monday and submitted to Russia’s parliament, that could affect tens of thousands of activists and political prisoners in the country.

According to Al Jazeera English, Russia’s Izvestia news outlet reported that government sources have confirmed that the amnesty would apply to the Greenpeace 30. It might also free members of Pussy Riot.

The Greenpeace 30 were arrested after some of them scaled a Russian oil rig during a late September protest. They were charged by Russian prosecutors with the crime of piracy, then with hooliganism, and belatedly granted bail last month. Here is word of the latest developments from the BBC:

Mr Putin’s amnesty bill has been submitted to parliament, to mark the Russian constitution’s 20th anniversary on Thursday. …

The amnesty bill does not name those who would be pardoned, but lists categories covered. …

The deputy speaker of the Duma, Vladimir Vasilyev, said about 25,000 people would benefit from the amnesty, most of whom were not given prison terms. About 2,000 prisoners would be among that 25,000, as well as almost 6,000 who could see charges against them dropped.

Some are suggesting that this apparent outburst of goodwill is related to Russia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in early 2014. If that’s true, then let’s petition the International Olympic Committee to hold games only in oppressive states from now on.

Source Report: Kremlin amnesty could apply to Pussy Riot and Greenpeace 30, Al Jazeera English Putin amnesty may free Greenpeace 30 and Pussy Riot, BBC

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: [email protected].

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