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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Arms Treaty Debate

MOSCOW (AP) -- The State Duma may take up ratification of the newest U.S.-Russian arms control treaty next month, Itar-Tass reported Tuesday.

The Duma had been expected to open debate on ratifying the Treaty of Moscow last month, but it indefinitely postponed a ratification vote because of the then-imminent U.S.-led attack on Iraq, which Moscow vehemently opposed.

"It was impossible from the moral point of view" to discuss ratification at the time, ITAR-Tass quoted Dmitry Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee, as saying Tuesday.

Rogozin said that with combat now winding down, his committee might resubmit the treaty for ratification in the second half of May, Itar-Tass reported.

Letter to Latvia

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin revealed in a letter to Latvian school students that to him, being a world leader means carrying the weight of civilization on his shoulders.

"The behavior, choices and decisions of leaders in many respects determine the paths of a state's development, and that means -- the fate of all civilization," Putin wrote to students at Middle School No. 1 in Limbazi, Latvia, who had asked him for some insight into the role and traits of a modern leader.

The students wrote to Putin in January as part of an international educational contest entitled "Door to Diplomacy." The Kremlin released excerpts of Putin's response Tuesday.

Putin told the students that being a world leader is not for everyone. He said it requires a person who is knowledgeable not only about his country but also about the world.

A leader "must have patience to hear out other points of view … and must in no instance rely on one's emotions," Putin wrote.

Islamic Leaders Clash

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian Islamic leader who recently caused an uproar by announcing jihad against the United States sparked criticism from a rival again Tuesday when he urged the world's Muslims to elect a single spiritual leader.

Supreme Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, head of the Central Islamic Department of Muslims of Holy Russia, said Muslims worldwide should have a single leader to "help resolve problems of war and peace, relationships between peoples and civilizations," Itar-Tass reported.

Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the rival Council of Russian Muftis, swiftly denounced the idea. "This proposal could only have been made by an insane person," Interfax quoted him as saying.

"It's impossible to force all Muslims to follow one spiritual leader, like Catholics follow the Pope," Gainutdin said.

Drug Trial Begins

MOSCOW (MT) -- Four suspected members of a notorious Moscow drug gang went on trial Tuesday in a Moscow region court.

Vadim Lavrenov, Mikhail Svanidze, Natik Babayev and Oleg Titov are accused of operating a drug cartel that flooded Russia and Europe with cocaine and synthetic drugs in the 1990s.

The four were arrested in 2000 with Vadim Petrov, who is accused of masterminding the operation. He will be tried separately later this year.

The Izvestia newspaper reported that Petrov purchased some $500 million worth of real estate in the Netherlands with the cartel's proceeds.

U.S. Lifts Belarus Ban

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States followed the lead of 14 European countries and lifted a travel ban imposed last November on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and seven top ministers over human rights violations.

The U.S. State Department's deputy spokesman, Philip Reeker, said the United States and the European Union remained seriously concerned with the continuing deterioration of democracy in Belarus.

But, Reeker said, the travel ban was lifted in response to Belarus' cooperation in establishing an office in Minsk for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Probe Promised

VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia (AP) -- Vladimir Putin's envoy for human rights in Chechnya denounced reports of widespread killings of civilians and promised Tuesday that a commission to investigate crimes committed by Russian servicemen and rebel fighters will be established after the region elects a president.

Abdul-Khakim Sultygov described reports from human rights groups and Western media about mass killings in Chechnya as part of a "planned action" aimed to justify efforts among some Europeans to establish an international tribunal for Chechnya, Interfax reported.

Sultygov said a commission to investigation crimes by rebels and Russian servicemen will be set up after a president is elected. "I am confident that the creation of this commission will be the first priority of the republic's president," he said.

Balkans Withdrawal

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- NATO-led troops in the Balkans have been formally advised that Russia will pull its peacekeepers out of the region, officials said Tuesday.

Some 320 Russian troops are serving in Bosnia as a part of a 12,000-strong force from more than 30 countries.

Last week, Russian authorities announced the withdrawal, citing financial concerns and a lack of a war threat in the Balkans as the reason for their withdrawal. The pullout will begin within two months.

Russia is also pulling out 650 peacekeepers from Kosovo, said Garry Bannister-Green, spokesman for the force in Pristina.

Georgia Blackout

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) -- High winds ruptured power lines in western Georgia on Tuesday, leaving most of the country without electricity, officials said.

The blackout cut television broadcasts and stranded 11 metro trains in Tbilisi. Hundreds of passengers had to walk through tunnels to stations, their passage lit by diesel generators, subway director Guram Gabuniya said.

A spokeswoman for the Fuel and Energy Ministry, Nino Asatiani, said the blackout had been caused by high winds that broke power lines in the Imeretiya region, triggering an automatic shutdown of the nation's power grid. It will take a day to fully resume electricity supplies, Asatiani said.