Moscow — Norma Garca’s dream vacation, an extended jaunt with her adult daughter through erstwhile empires in Europe and the Middle East, was nearly dashed before it even began by Russia President Vladimir Putin’s machinery of state.

The two Mexicans did not even need visas for France, and Garca quickly got the ones required for Turkey using her home computer in Aguascalientes. But for Russia, she had to hire a courier to hand-deliver their passports to the embassy in Mexico City, about 500km south, along with proof of prepaid airline tickets and hotel reservations. After a hand-wringing few weeks— and $160 in fees — they finally got their dark-green travel booklets back, freshly thickened with full-page stamps of approval...

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