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.
By Jill Dougherty reporting from Moscow
On election night in Moscow, his victory assured, Vladimir Putin appeared on stage at an open-air rally with his supporters just off Red Square.
Jabbing the icy air with his finger, the wind causing tears to roll down his cheek, Putin shouted: "We showed that no one can impose anything on us - no one, nothing! We showed that our people can distinguish between the desire for renewal and political provocation that has but one goal: to destroy Russia's statehood and usurp power."
"Striking" is how Russia expert Dmitri Trenin describes the moment. "I was astonished to hear what he said, that the population is prone to be manipulated by a foreign power."
That strident tone, along with a strong current of anti-American vitriol, has marked Prime Minister Putin's presidential election campaign for months.
By Jill Dougherty
Just before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in Mike McFaul on January 11 as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, she told the audience packing the State Department's Benjamin Franklin Room that "Mike's reputation precedes him."
Yet it's that very reputation that has Russia eyeing McFaul with suspicion, wary that the ambassador, who arrived last Saturday, is looking to create a Russian version of the Arab Spring.
From the start, McFaul's mission to Moscow has been different. As Clinton explained to the audience that day, rather than send the Russian Foreign Ministry a diplomatic note announcing the appointment, the president took it upon himself to tell Russia's president, in person, about it.
"When President Obama saw President Medvedev at the G-8 summit in Deauville in May he simply said, 'I'm planning to nominate Mike to be the next ambassador to Russia,'" Clinton explained, "and President Medvedev responded immediately with a tone full of respect, 'Of course. He's a tough negotiator.' And that was that."
But it isn't his negotiation skill that has Russia nervous. FULL POST
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused U.S. drones and special forces of involvement in the death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in comments Thursday.
He also attacked U.S. Sen. John McCain over a warning that Russia might follow the same path as Libya, suggesting McCain was not of sound mind following his time as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.
Putin's comments were prompted by a question during his traditional year-end question-and-answer program, broadcast live by state media.
Responding to a question about McCain purportedly predicting Putin would meet the same fate as Libya's leader, the Russian prime minister described the televised images of Gadhafi's final moments as "horrible, disgusting scenes" and pointed to U.S. involvement in his death.
"Is that democracy? Who did this? Drones, including those of the U.S., struck his motorcade and then commandos, who were not supposed to be there, called for the so-called opposition and militants by the radio, and he was killed without an investigation or trial," Putin said.