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Entries in Russia (210)

Wednesday
Aug142013

American Runner Wins in Russia, Criticizes Anti-Gay Law

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- American runner Nick Symmonds became the first foreign athlete to criticize Russia's new anti-gay law on Russian soil shortly after winning a silver medal at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow.

"I disagree with their laws and I disagree with their views," he told ABC News.

Symmonds said he would like to wear a rainbow flag pin during competitions to show his support for gay rights in Russia and around the world, but quickly added, "They've made it very clear that will land you in jail."

"I'm trying to tread that fine line of being respectful as a guest in this country and also speaking against some serious injustices that I see," he said. "As adamant as I am about this issue, I don't know what me sitting in jail is good for."

On Tuesday night, Symmonds burst out of the pack after the final turn to snag the silver medal in dramatic fashion in the 800 meters final. Afterward, he dedicated his medal to his gay and lesbian friends.

"I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them," he told the Russian sports website R-Sport, according to Russia's state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti.

Symmonds has long been a vocal supporter of gay rights.

"This has been an issue that has been personal for me. From day one I've always spoken out against this one. It's just so ludicrous you would give rights to some people and not to others," he told ABC News.

"It was just such a slap in the face I couldn't sit back and watch it happen to some of my friends," he added.

Earlier this month, Symmonds was criticized by some gay rights supporters for writing on his blog that he would not criticize the law during the world championships.

"The playing field is not a place for politics," he wrote in Runner's World on Aug. 6.

His comments came amid a growing concern that foreign athletes and fans attending international sporting events in Russia, including next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, could be prosecuted under the law.

The law, passed in June, bans "propaganda" of "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors. While the law is ambiguously written, many fear it will be used to persecute homosexuals and their supporters. In practice, it could outlaw even speaking about homosexuality around children or wearing gay pride symbols in public. Violators face steep fines and jail time. Foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation.

The law has sparked outrage overseas, including calls to boycott Russian products like vodka. Others have even called for a boycott of the Sochi games themselves.

The International Olympic Committee said it has received assurances from top Russian officials that athletes and fans are safe from the law, but Russian officials have sent mixed signals. On Monday, Russia's Interior Ministry said the law would remain in effect during the games.

The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said last Friday that the IOC was now seeking "clarification" from Russia about how the law would be applied to Olympic guests. The IOC, meanwhile, has reportedly made clear that athletes are prohibited from publicly advocating political positions during the games and could be penalized if they do.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun302013

Vladimir Putin Signs Anti-Gay Law

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Standing in sharp contrast to the victories achieved by gay rights activists in the United States this past week, on Sunday Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law imposing fines for disseminating “homosexual propaganda” around minors.

Organizations that spread alleged homosexual propaganda to children face now fines of up to $30,000, while individuals can be charged with up to $1,500.

Putin’s signing of the bill was preceded on Saturday by an unsanctioned rally in which dozens of gay rights activists were assaulted in St Petersburg.

Putin defended the bill on Tuesday.

“It’s not about imposing some sort of sanctions on homosexuality,” he said. “It’s about protecting children from such information.”

Russia has a history of intolerance regarding homosexuality. It was illegal in the Soviet Union, and the Orthodox Church has been very vocal with its opposition. Requests for sanctioned pride parades have been denied, and in 2012 the musician Madonna was threatened with a fine for speaking out against the anti-gay bill.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun032013

Steven Seagal 'Opened Up Doors' for US Delegation in Moscow

Photo by Matthew Simmons/WireImage(MOSCOW) -- First, there was Dennis Rodman, who struck an unexpected friendship with the reclusive leader of North Korea. Now, add Steven Seagal to the list of improbable celebrity diplomats.

The former action film hero has apparently developed a web of high level contacts in Russia, which he tapped into for a visiting delegation of American lawmakers who came, in part, to investigate April's Boston marathon bombing.

One suspect in that bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, spent six months last year in Dagestan, a restive region in southern Russia.

The meetings, it appears, yielded little new information about the Boston suspect and no smoking gun to suggest an intelligence failure.

"There is nothing specific that could've been done that we can point to that, had it been done differently, would've prevent this," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican from California who led the delegation.

But Rohrabacher, who said he has known Seagal for "a number of years" and said the two had often discussed "thwarting radical Islamic terrorism," repeatedly praised the actor for "going out of his way" to set up meetings for the delegation in Russia.

"We are very appreciative of the help he has given this congressional delegation to make sure we accomplished our mission," Rohrabacher said.

Indeed, at one point Rohrabacher said that, without Seagal's assistance, the delegation may not have been able to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, the highest level Russian official to sit down with them during the week-long visit.

"I don't know if he would have been available to us without Steven actually suggesting that he do that," he told reporters. "We are very pleased that he opened up some doors for us so we could have some very high level discussions."

Earlier in the week, Rohrabacher's office revealed that Seagal had offered to set up meetings for the delegation with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a man who was criticized in the State Department's latest annual human rights report for his heavy-handed anti-terrorism tactics -- including abductions and burning the houses of the families of suspected terrorists.

Rohrabacher said that, ultimately, the delegation did not have time to visit Chechnya (Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., a member of the delegation, said he never planned to go to Chechnya). But Rohrabacher also suggested that Congressional ethics prohibitions on accepting private plane rides was partly to blame for the trip not taking place.

"There's also a problem with the rules of the House that say that I can't, we can't go on a private plane. If Mr. Seagal or anybody else was willing to fly us, we aren't permitted to go on that," he said.

Seagal, who attended the press conference on Sunday, appears to have formed a friendship with Kadyrov, who has posted photos of the two together on his Instagram page. Speaking to reporters after the press conference was over, Seagal defended the Chechen leader.

"I just think its fascinating to see all the accusations that are being thrown around and I've asked many many people 'Hey, is there any evidence of this or has he been indicted?' Because there's a big difference between wild speculations and accusations and then facts," Seagal said.

"I'm friends with many presidents of many countries and there's rumors about all of them," he added. The actor said he had traveled extensively around Russia's North Caucasus region, which is home to an Islamist militant uprising.

Seagal, who said his goal is to improve counter-terror cooperation between the United States and Russia, also sought to take credit for setting up a meeting with Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, which is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. The meeting focused on the Boston bombing investigation and the threat of terrorism.

Although Rohrabacher said the FSB meeting was scheduled by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Seagal insisted it was he who made the arrangements. As he made his case, Cohen shook his head.

"He can shake his head no, but the fact of the matter is, yes I did. I can tell you how it happened, and I probably shouldn't say this because it'd be better for me if I didn't," Seagal said before explaining.

"Dmitri Rogozin, as you may know, controls FSB -- they fall under him, I mean that's his specific designation. And I asked him for that meeting and I knew about that meeting before they did," the actor said. "That's the truth."

Seagal added that the embassy likely only confirmed the meeting afterward.

At that point, Rohrabacher interjected, saying: "I'm sure that when Steven Seagal has put in a good word that it did nothing but help us get that appointment."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Apr132013

Russia Bans Former Bush Administration Officials

ThinkStock(MOSCOW) -- Russia slapped sanctions on a pair of former top Bush administration officials, two former commanders of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and 14 other Americans in retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions the Obama administration imposed on a number of Russian citizens on Friday.

In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was forced to respond to the American “blackmail,” which it warned would harm U.S.-Russia relations. The Kremlin had prepared a list of over 100 American officials in advance of Friday’s announcement, warning its response would be proportionate to the Obama administration’s actions.

The former officials included on the Russian list are David Addington, then Chief of Staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney, and John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who wrote legal opinions justifying the Bush administration’s controversial policies on detainee interrogation.

Russia said the 14 other Americans, which include judges and officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency, were involved in cases against Russian citizens abroad. They included those involved in the capture and conviction of Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trafficker who was the inspiration for Nicholas Cage’s character in the movie Lord of War. Russia has insisted that Bout is an innocent businessman.

The Russian move comes after the Obama administration sanctioned 18 Russians on Friday, plus an untold number of others in a classified annex, on the so-called Magnitsky List. The list, named for whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died under mysterious circumstances in 2009 after uncovering massive fraud, was mandated by Congressional legislation in December. Just weeks later, Russia passed a retaliatory bill that included a controversial ban on adoptions to the United States.

The American list included 16 Russians allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s detention and death as well as two Chechens accused of abuses.

The tit-for-tat sanctions come at a delicate time in U.S.-Russian relations. Ties have been strained over the past year, but Washington is trying to convince Russia to drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the conflict there rages on. Both sides are also trying to tee up an agreement on key issues before a meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.

To that end, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon arrives in Moscow on Sunday for a two day visit to discuss prospects for further nuclear arms cuts and NATO’s missile defense plans. The United States insists that plan, which places interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe, is aimed at countering the threat from Iran. Russia says the system degrades its own nuclear deterrent capability.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Mar242013

Russian Oligarch Boris Berezovsky’s Death ‘Unexplained’

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was not killed by chemical or radioactive material, British police said Sunday, but are still calling the 67-year-old’s death unexplained.

Berezovsky, once one of Russia’s most visible and wealthiest men, was found dead Saturday at his home in Ascot, England, where he had been living since he left his homeland in 2000 as President Vladimir Putin’s government was moving to bring criminal charges against him.

Thames Valley Police Scenes of Crime officers were carrying out a forensic investigation Sunday at Berezovsky’s estate.

“We are at the early stages of the investigation and we are retaining an open mind as we progress,” Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Brown, the deputy senior investigating officer in the case, said.

“The investigation team are building a picture of the last days of Mr. Berezovsky’s life, speaking to close friends and family to gain a better understanding of his state of mind. We are acutely aware of the level of interest into his death and are focused on conducting a thorough investigation as we would with any unexplained death.”

News of Berezovsky’s death sparked speculation that he might have been killed like ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after he was poisoned with polonium-210 while drinking tea at a London meeting.

Berezovsky openly accused Russian President Putin of personal involvement in the ex-spy’s killing, and on his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Putin for his death.

A year after Litvinenko’s death, Berezovsky said Scotland Yard had warned him about a plot on his life, but British police never confirmed his claim.

Police Sunday said any speculation about Berezovsky’s death would be premature.

“It would be wrong to speculate on the cause of death until the post-mortem has been carried out,” he said. “We do not have any evidence at this stage to suggest third-party involvement.”

Police went to Berezovsky’s home Saturday after receiving a phone call from an ambulance service that a man had been found dead at the Ascot home.

One of Berezovsky’s employees told police he had called the ambulance service after finding the Russian’s lifeless body on the floor of a bathroom. He said he’d become concerned because he hadn’t seen Berezovsky since 10:30 the night before, and began searching the house. When he found the locked bathroom door, he forced it open and found Berezovsky, police said.

A paramedic with the ambulance service declared Berezovsky dead, police said.

Berezovsky was a supporter of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and quickly came into conflict with Putin, Yeltsin’s successor.

He accused Putin’s government of involvement in the apartment house bombings in Moscow and two other Russian cities that the government blamed on Chechen terrorists and used as a pretext for Russian troops to sweep into Chechnya for the second war there in half a decade.

When Russian authorities began moving to bring fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other charges against him, Berezovsky said the criminal investigation was politically motivated, and he fled to Great Britain. Moscow sought his extradition, but the British refused.

Berezovsky continued to fund Russian opposition groups, in 2007 claiming he had given as much as $400 million to various organizations over the years, and even Sunday a presidential spokesman said Putin considered Berezovsky an enemy.

“We know for certain that he spared no expense in support of processes, within Russia and beyond, that could be said to have been directed against Russia and Putin,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on the independent cable television channel Rain. “He definitely was Putin’s opponent and, unfortunately, not only his political opponent, but most likely in other dimensions as well.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Mar232013

Russian Tycoon Found Dead in UK Home

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky was found dead in his home outside of London on Saturday morning.

The 67-year-old tycoon was a wanted man in Russia and an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The news was broken when Berezovsky's son-in-law, Yegor Shuppe, wrote "Boris Berezovsky is dead," on his facebook page on Saturday.

According to BBC News, Berezovsky made his fortune in the 1990s by selling imported and Russian-made cars. He later invested in Russia's main television channel, the national airline and an oil company. While he was once influential in Russian politics, helping in Putin's rise to power, the BBC report says that Putin was not receptive to Berezovsky's opinions on how to run the country.

According to BBC News, Berezovsky eventually left Russia for political asylum in the United Kingdom in 2000. He had reportedly previously survived multiple assassination attempts. The circumstances surrounding Berezovsky's death are unclear.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar062013

Bolshoi Ballet Dancer Confesses to Acid Attack

Sergei Filin leaves the hospital in Moscow, on Feb. 4, 2013. AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Three suspects, including a top ballet dancer, have reportedly confessed to carrying out a vicious sulfuric acid attack on Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the renowned Bolshoi ballet, in January.

Police said the three men each signed statements admitting their role in the plot.  Russian television aired footage of a confession by Pavel Dmitrichenko, a leading soloist with the Bolshoi, who is believed to have been the mastermind.  The other two men are believed to be the hooded attacker and his getaway driver.  

All three were detained on Tuesday and Dmitrichenko’s home was searched.  According to the newspaper Izvestia, authorities used electronic surveillance to track the suspects using their cell phones.

“The motive for the crime lies in (Filin’s) hostile relations with Dmitrichenko connected to his work,” police said in a statement Wednesday, according to RIA Novosti.

The statement did not elaborate on the nature of their dispute, but according to AFP, the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported the two clashed after Dmitrichenko’s girlfriend, another up and coming Bolshoi dancer, was passed over for top roles.

In the taped confession that aired on television, Dmitrichenko said, “I masterminded this attack, but not to the extent that it eventually happened.”

Dmitrichenko, who recently performed the lead role in a production of the Soviet-era ballet Ivan the Terrible, has been with the Bolshoi ballet since 2002.  He was next scheduled to appear in the role of a Blue Bird in a production of Tchaikovsky’s A Sleeping Beauty on March 16.

His girlfriend, Anzhelina Vorontsova, was reportedly passed over for top roles, including in a production of Swan Lake, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets.  She was a protégé of Nikolai Tsiskaridze, another former Bolshoi principal dancer and a rival of Filin who wanted the artistic director job.

Filin was once the Bolshoi’s principal dancer and was named artistic director in 2011 amid controversial competition for the job.  He was splashed with acid outside his home in central Moscow on Jan. 17 by a hooded assailant who then fled.  Filin’s face was severely burned and he is currently in Germany as doctors work to restore his eyesight.

In an interview with the BBC before he left Russia, Filin said he had an idea who was behind the attack, but declined to name names.

Early on, fingers were pointed at Tsiskaridze, because of his public criticism of Filin’s work as artistic director and his own ambitions for the job.  He has denied any involvement in the attack.

Filin reportedly told associates in the months leading up to the assault that he had been the subject of an intimidation campaign, including harassing calls and messages, but he declined offers of protection.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb272013

John Kerry and Russian Counterpart Discuss Syrian Conflict

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Berlin on Tuesday regarding the conflict in Syria.

Washington and Moscow have long been at odds at how to best end the two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people and threatens to further destabilize the Middle East.

Kerry, who is on his first overseas mission since becoming America's top envoy, has convinced Syria's main exile opposition group to attend a Friends of Syria conference in Rome this week to help seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Lavrov said the talks were "constructive" and he hoped Kerry would keep pushing Syria's opposition to speak directly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government in order to stop the violence that seems to escalate week-to-week.

Al-Assad is now expressing a willingness to speak with Syria's armed opposition after months of refusing to talk with the fighters he calls "terrorists.

In other developments, there were published reports on Tuesday that the Obama administration may provide non-lethal military equipment, such as body armor and vehicles, and possibly strategic military training, to carefully selected rebel fighters as well as offering humanitarian assistance to the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb212013

Russian Meteor, Wild Road Madness Exposed in Country’s Dashcam Craze

YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- They are the videos everyone is talking about. Rare images of a meteor streaking across the Russian sky in a bright, fast-approaching ball of fire. The drama was captured on numerous dashboard cameras and then uploaded onto YouTube.

While the cosmic event was stunning, the fact that those dashcams caught it all on tape is not surprising. Those cameras are almost everywhere in Russia.

People mount them in their cars to record what happens on the country’s lawless roads, then post the videos online. They have become one of YouTube’s most viral phenomena.

The small video cameras have captured all sorts of madness: Death-defying crashes, road rage, that infamous “cows spilling out of a truck” video, low-flying helicopters and fighter jets, and military tanks barreling across the road.

One dashboard camera even caught a plane slamming into the side of the highway last December. The plane’s landing gear can be seen smashing into the car ahead.

But these videos are not just YouTube gold, they serve an important purpose to expose Russia’s uber-aggressive driving culture. They catch corrupt and violent cops, expose cabbies wielding baseball bats and bust alleged car insurance scammers – like when people back into another car on purpose and then blame the other driver for hitting them, or others who pretend they were hit by a passing car.

Peter Shkumatov was the victim of an actual hit-and-run. Nothing dramatic, but police were able to use his dashboard cam video to look for the culprit.

“It’s always on and it’s the best witness,” he said. “And this witness doesn’t lie.”

Mikhail Podorozhansky, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s Auto Review magazine, said the reason for why more and more of these wild videos from Russia are cropping up on YouTube is simple.

“The reason why you see these things is because devices like this become more and more popular,” he said.

Despite what appears online, Podorozhansky said Russia’s roads have actually improved, thanks in part to the cameras, which can shame drivers into better behavior.

“Believe me, if you compare it to let’s say five years or 10 years ago, now you’ll say, ‘Oh they’re really behaved,’” he said.

Judging by what’s on YouTube today, that’s a scary thought.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb212013

Moscow Seeks Dialogue to End Syrian Conflict

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russia's top diplomat said on Wednesday that Syria's warring sides run the risk of "mutual destruction" if they don't soon reach a settlement to end their conflict that began in March 2011.

After talks with Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that neither President Bashar al-Assad nor opposition forces will win a military victory.

Over the past two years, more than 70,000 people have died in Syria as al-Assad refuses to cede power to factions he has labeled as "terrorists" influenced by outside agitators.

Moscow remains Damascus' steadfast ally but Russia's patience with al-Assad has run thin.

Lavrov says he and the Arab League will try to broker talks between the two sides, suggesting, "There are signs of positive tendencies, signs of tendencies for dialogue both from the side of the government and the opposition."

One indication that Lavrov might be on to something is the planned visit in March by opposition Syrian National Coalition leader Mouaz al-Khatib.  Until recently, al-Khatib has refused to talk with Moscow because of its ties to al-Assad.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio







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