Russia

Two weeks from now in Surrey, England, a coroner's inquest is scheduled for a most peculiar death.

Here are the facts: In November 2012, a 44-year-old man died while out jogging near his Surrey home. The man was reported to have been in robust health, and police declared that the death was not suspicious.

But here are a few more facts: The jogger was a Russian banker who had fled Russia after helping expose tax fraud that implicated both the Mafia and the Russian state. Traces of a rare, poisonous flowering plant were found in his stomach.

It started with a report and erupted into a controversy involving a mufti, a Russian Orthodox priest and a rabbi.

The subject: female genital mutilation.

President Vladimir Putin says he'll beef up Russia's military force in Crimea, after Russia's security service claimed that it thwarted a would-be terrorist incursion from Ukraine over the weekend.

The Federal Security Service, the FSB, said that teams of commandos from Ukraine's defense forces made two attempts to enter the Black Sea peninsula, with the intention of sabotaging vital infrastructure. The FSB said Ukrainian forces attempted to cover the infiltration by directing heavy fire at the Russian side, killing two Russian servicemen.

One of the questions raised over the course of this year's presidential race is about how a President Trump would deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

One reason to wonder: the Republican Party platform's new language on policy towards Ukraine.

When Republican Party leaders drafted the platform prior to their convention in Cleveland last month, they had relatively little input from the campaign of then-presumptive nominee Donald Trump on most issues — except when it came to a future Republican administration's stance on Ukraine.

First the Russian track and field team was barred. Then most of the Russian rowing squad was told to stay home. Now the Russian weightlifters are all out.

Russian and Syria have said they are opening humanitarian corridors out of besieged, rebel-held areas in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. But NPR has reached civilians in the embattled city who turned back for fear of the ongoing shelling.

The entire Russian Paralympic team is facing a possible ban from the upcoming Summer Games in Brazil because of signs of widespread drug violations among Russian disabled athletes, the sports' governing body said Friday.

The announcement by the International Paralympic Committee was the latest pointing to widespread Russian doping practices in recent years, though this was by far the most serious leveled against the country's para athletes.

If you were a Soviet spy, chances are you knew your way around the menu at the restaurant Aragvi, in Moscow. That's where Stalin's security chief held court, and where KGB spooks met for power lunches. Movie stars ate there, too, as did cosmonauts. It was the place to be seen for Moscow's elite.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Aragvi shut down. It stayed shuttered for many years. But it's just reopened.

It's not every day that the man who ran Russia's foreign espionage service offers to buy you a drink.

I'd been chasing Vyacheslav Trubnikov for an interview, when a message landed in my inbox: Hotel Metropol, 5 o'clock.

The Metropol is one of Moscow's old grande dame hotels, just steps from Red Square, with polished dark wood, sparkling crystal decanters, velvet armchairs. Trubnikov settled in and ordered a double espresso.

Track and field's world governing body has unanimously decided to bar Russian athletes from competing in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro amid allegations of state-sponsored doping.

The International Association of Athletics Federations made the announcement at a press conference Friday in Vienna.

"Because the system in Russia has been tainted by doping from top level and down, we cannot trust that what we call and what people might call clean athletes really are clean," said Rune Andersen, head of the task force that provided recommendations to the IAAF.

High on a hill, in a leafy, residential neighborhood between Georgetown and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the Russian Embassy sits behind tall gates. It was right here, in the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, that the FBI and the National Security Agency built a tunnel — a secret tunnel that started beneath one of the pleasant-looking houses lining Wisconsin Avenue and extended over to the neighboring embassy.

It was built so that American spies could eavesdrop on what was happening inside.

This post was updated at 3:10 PM

Russian hackers have been accessing the Democratic National Committee's computer network for the past year, and have stolen information including opposition research files on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

According to CrowdStrike, the security firm the DNC called in to deal with the massive data breach, one group of hackers tied to the Russian government has been stealing information from the national party for about a year.

Ukrainian pilot and national hero Nadiya Savchenko has been released from Russia, where she has been held for almost two years.

The number of tigers in the wild has risen from an estimated 3,200 in 2010 to about 3,890 in 2016 — a gain of more than 20 percent after a century of decline, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The group says the tiger populations have grown in at least four countries: India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan.

The drop in world oil prices is still biting hard at Russia's economy. As oil has collapsed, so has the value of the ruble. And the people who've been hit hardest — pensioners and people who aspire to join the middle class — are groups that are important to President Vladimir Putin's political base.

For many Russians, the symbol of entering the middle class was the ability to buy a house or apartment. In the growing prosperity of the mid-2000s, people began taking mortgage loans to make that possible, and home sales took off.

A Russian court has found Ukranian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty of murdering two Russian journalists in Ukraine. She's been sentenced to 22 years in prison.

NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow tells our Newscast unit that Savchenko "was accused of directing artillery fire that killed two members of a Russian TV crew in July 2014."

Russian President Vladimir Putin just made another shrewd and decisive move with his surprising decision to start withdrawing forces from Syria. Or, the Russian leader was overextended abroad and short of cash at home and was looking for a quick exit.

Putin wants everyone to believe the former, claiming the Russian airstrikes and the Syrian government army have achieved a "fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he has ordered the withdrawal of the majority of Russian troops from Syria. The pullout, which he said was coordinated with Syrian President Bashar Assad, is slated to begin Tuesday.

Speaking in a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin said the objective of Russia's intervention — disrupting ISIS and other terror groups — had "been fulfilled," and had laid the groundwork for more intense peace talks.

A Russian opposition leader says he was sitting in a Moscow restaurant when about 10 men burst in, threatened to kill him and then attacked him — with a cake.

Mikhail Kasyanov is co-leader of the opposition Republican Party of Russia-People's Freedom Party (Parnas), which is planning to put forward candidates to run in Russia's parliamentary elections later this year.

NPR's Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit that the Kremlin is downplaying the assault. Here's more:

The Russian punk band Pussy Riot has just released a new music video lampooning the country's prosecutor-general, Yuri Chaika.

The prosecutor-general, who is supposed to be one of Russia's top crime fighters, has been accused of massive corruption. The song revels in it.

Nearly 10 years after Kremlin critic and former spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with a rare radioactive element and died in London, a retired British judge has issued a report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin "probably" approved a plan by Russia's security service to kill the former FSB agent.

Tuesday was an important holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church: Epiphany, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

Russian believers mark the event by re-enacting that baptism in ponds and rivers, and since Russia is far north of the Jordan, that means plunging into freezing water through holes cut in the ice.

Big cities like Moscow often set up elaborate stations where people can take the plunge, but people in other cities go for the do-it-yourself approach.

Turkey says that after issuing 10 warnings in five minutes, two of its F-16s shot down a Russian warplane that Turkey claims violated its airspace.

In its monthly propaganda magazine, Dabiq, the Islamic State published what it says is a photo of the bomb that brought down a Russian airliner.

The picture calls the bomb — packed inside a soda can — an improvised explosive device.

From Cairo, NPR's Leila Fadel filed this report with our Newscast unit:

"The self-declared Islamic State's propaganda magazine also printed pictures of Russian passports of the alleged victims onboard, implying affiliates of the group got to the site of the crash before the Egyptian authorities last month.

Moscow may be projecting a tough image abroad, but Russia is facing severe internal problems, including worrying trends that suggest the world's biggest country could run short of people.

That's not what you might assume, judging by the number of babies in buggies and strollers in any large Russian city. At a neighborhood park in St. Petersburg full of young families with children and toddlers, it looks like this country is in the midst of a baby boom.

After a 15-month probe, investigators with the Dutch Safety Board have concluded that a Russian Buk missile took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine last year.

The crash in July 2014 killed all 298 people on board, most of whom were from the Netherlands.

mekiaries

Everyone from Boeing to fish processors and apple growers stands to benefit if the U.S. normalizes trade relations with Russia. That’s coming up for a vote Friday in the House of Representatives.

Russia joined the World Trade Organization in August and lowered a whole bunch of tariffs on things like airplanes and fish.

Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive

It's official: China and Russia are the two biggest sources of cyber espionage attacks against the United States.

The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive singled out those two nations in a recent report to Congress (coincidentally, it's been difficult to reach the counterintelligence website since the report came out and those links may not work).

AP

Seattle will not be hosting World Cup matches in 2022.  The United States was up against four other countries to host the World Cup. But the bid has gone to the Middle Eastern country Qatar.