By Jill Dougherty
When I was CNN’s Moscow Bureau Chief I participated in a round-table discussion with Vladimir Putin, then president for the first time, in the Kremlin library. Sitting next to him, just to his right, I could see how even the word “Chechnya” infuriated him. After all, it was Putin who, in 1999, launched the second Chechen War.
Thursday, in his annual national call-in, “Direct Line,” in which he fielded questions from Russians for almost five hours, Vladimir Putin showed that he still has a deep current of anger toward Chechen terrorists, along with a deep grudge toward the West for what he perceives as its double standard on terrorism.
By Elise Labott
BRUSSELS (CNN) - When Secretary of State John Kerry meets Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of NATO meetings, he will have a full agenda, starting with the crisis in Syria, disarmament talks with Iran and nuclear saber rattling by North Korea.
There also will be the issue of missile defense and ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Washington to make drastic cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals.
But the Chechen roots of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects will loom large.
While Russia could be helpful in tracing possible motivation of the alleged attackers, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well as any possible connection to terrorist groups, the Obama administration wants to make sure it does not upset an already fragile relationship.
Three members of Russian female punk rock band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison Friday after they were found guilty of hooliganism for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a church.
The five months they have spent in detention since their arrests in March count toward the sentence, Judge Marina Sirovaya said.
The judge said the charges against the three women - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich - had been proved by witnesses and the facts.
The Pussy Riot members were charged after screaming, "Mother Mary, please drive Putin away," in a protest act in February inside Christ Savior Cathedral, one of Moscow's grandest houses of worship.
By Elise Labott
Russian presidents don't come to Israel every day. The last time President Vladmir Putin came to Israel was in 2005, the first leader of Russia to visit the country since the time of the czars.
There should be good reason for close ties between the two countries.
Israel is home more than a million Russian-speakers who came from parts of the former Soviet Union. And Israelis will never forget that it was the Soviets who liberated many of the Jews from death camps in the Holocaust. On Monday, Putin stood next to President Shimon Peres at the unveiling of a "Victory Monument" in the Israeli city of Netanya, marking the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany.
But these strong historical ties don't necessarily translate to modern day cooperation.
By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford
Almost four decades ago, as the Cold War raged, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 aimed squarely at the Soviet Union's policy preventing Jews from emigrating from the USSR.
The Jackson-Vanik amendment, which denied favorable trade relations to the Soviet Union, worked. In 1991, Russia stopped slapping exit fees on Jews who wished to emigrate and they have been free to leave ever since.
But the amendment has stayed on the books even though it has outlived its purpose, a Cold War relic that infuriated the Kremlin. In reality, it was only symbolic; since 1994, presidents, Republicans and Democrats have certified annually that Russia complies with the amendment. In fact, the U.S. maintains normal trade relations with Russia.
By Jill Dougherty and Tim Lister
It's almost a throwback to the Cold War: a toxic mixture of distrust, weapons shipments and chess moves to preserve spheres of influence. But that's how Russia and the United States have been maneuvering over Syria.
Moscow's latest gambit is to propose a regional solution that hinges on Iran and Turkey helping implement the six-point peace plan developed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The timing of the initiative is no accident. It was announced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Beijing just as the U.S.-led Friends of Syria group gathered in Washington to plan further steps to isolate and ultimately remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Turkey for an informal gathering in Turkey of the so-called "Friends of Syria."
The proposal is similar to one the Washington Post reports Annan will propose this week to the United Nations Security Council, which could include bringing Iran to the table. FULL POST
By Jill Dougherty
Last December, media reports surfaced in the Middle East that Russia had a plan to solve the Syrian conflict: have President Bashar al-Assad step aside for a transitional period and let his vice president, Farouk al-Shara, take over until elections could be held. Moscow would give al-Assad political asylum or find him a refuge.
Russian officials refused to confirm those reports but the plan got a spy-novel name - the Yemensky Variant - because of its similarity to the transition plan that led to the ouster of former Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh who handed over power to his vice president, clearing the way to elections.
By Jill Dougherty
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied that Russia is providing weapons that are killing Syrian civilians.
"We don't supply weapons that can be used in civil conflicts," he said.
A Russian-flagged ship docked this week in the Syrian port of Tartus, and some human rights groups say it was carrying weapons to be used in the conflict in Syria. The U.S. State Department said Thursday that it was looking into the matter but could not confirm that the ship was carrying arms.
Speaking with reporters in Berlin after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin also struck back at claims by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Russia is "propping up the regime" of Bashar al-Assad.
By Jill Dougherty
Moscow warned that the Obama administration's support for democracy-building organizations in Russia is complicating relations between the two countries.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in an interview with Interfax News Agency, said "This activity is reaching a scale that is turning into a problem in our relations."
"We really are concerned that Washington is funding certain groups and movements in Russia," Ryabkov said in the interview published Tuesday.
By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to explain why all options for stopping the violence in Syria are fraught with difficulty. But there is one route that the administration believes would go a long way to changing thinking in Damascus, and the path goes right through Moscow.
As administration officials - from the White House to the State Department, from the Pentagon to the intelligence community - explain, the opposition is comprised of many small groups, and the parts so far do not add up to a united whole. That opposition, which Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, numbered at around 100 different groups, has not united and has failed to rally the entire country against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
Arming the opposition would be futile against Syria's strong defenses and could lead to a chaotic civil war that could turn Syria into a safe haven for al Qaeda, administration officials argue. Military intervention, well, is out of the question, at least for now.
Which is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been focused like a laser on turning Moscow into a member of the "Friends of the Syrian people," rather than what the United States considers a friend of the al-Assad regime.