DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This week, two U.S. senators, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, were trying to visit Russia, but they say Russia denied their visas. At the same time, prominent Russians say they are having trouble getting U.S. visas. NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow has more on what might be playing out here.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Anatoly Karpov is one of the biggest names in chess, and aspiring grandmasters around the world are eager to learn from him. Here, Karpov is sharing some fundamentals in an instructional video.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
ANATOLY KARPOV: When we bring our king out of the center, we can make many moves with the pawns. Then we are not afraid of checks.
KIM: Now 68, Karpov has been travelling to the United States since the early 1970s. But this year, his U.S. visa application got stuck. Karpov was supposed to teach at a summer chess camp in New York run by his old friend and fellow grandmaster, Maxim Dlugy.
MAXIM DLUGY: This is crazy. This is just crazy. I couldn't believe it was happening.
KIM: Karpov has taught at the academy in the past and as a former world champion is one of its main draws.
DLUGY: He did give a few lectures by Skype because we have kids come from all over the country, from Seattle to, you know, California to Texas.
KIM: Dlugy says he suspects the reason Karpov wasn't issued a visa was political. Karpov holds a seat in the Russian Parliament for the ruling party and has voiced support for President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy. Karpov's office in Moscow says he is unavailable for interviews. But Dlugy says Karpov told him that after applying for his visa, he was invited to the American embassy and asked what Karpov calls ridiculous questions about whether he would spread Russian propaganda while in the U.S.
DLUGY: He said, no, I'm going to teach at a chess camp (laughter).
KIM: U.S.-Russia relations are at their worst since the Cold War. After Washington imposed new sanctions last year, Putin ordered U.S. diplomatic staff cut by more than 700. In Moscow, the official wait time for an ordinary visitor's visa is now 10 months. In July, Russian tennis star Svetlana Kuznetsova said she had to drop out of a tournament in Washington because of visa delays. On the American side, some members of Congress say they're barred from Russia. And the Anglo-American School in Moscow has had problems securing visas for many of its teachers. As for Anatoly Karpov, the U.S. embassy has only said his application is an administrative processing and that he requires additional screening. Daniil Sergeyev, who runs a Moscow business specializing in getting U.S. visas, says that's a normal bureaucratic procedure.
DANIIL SERGEYEV: (Foreign language spoken).
KIM: He says that while it's not exactly transparent process, it's generally predictable. For clients who want to spend New Year's Eve on Times Square, Sergeyev recommends applying for a U.S. visa in Warsaw or Vienna. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOLEPSIA'S "SATINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.