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Putin sees himself at the helm of a great power. But the World Bank calculates that GDP is below that of Brazil, life expectancy is shorter than in Pakistan. The average Russian man dies at 59. In China, male life expectancy is 71. The population has fallen below that of Bangladesh. Government
advertising campaigns initially led to a rise in the birth rate but the financial crisis has brought a sudden burst of abortions. In Russia, terminations outnumber live births. In 2005, the UN warned that the Russian population could fall by one third by 2050. Petrov explains: "The scourge is alcohol and the government is unwilling to launch a temperance drive due to the massive profits it makes off vodka sales." 

Oleg Zykov founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the new Russia. He is one of those that Stalin would call "the little screws" whose activism keeps alive real debate about where society is heading. He says: "Russia today is gripped by a multi-dimensional social plague. We are a post-totalitarian society and these problems have their origins in the way Russia was ruled for almost a century. People need to learn to take responsibility for their own lives and not rely on the state. Awareness must be spread about the devastating spread of HIV, TB, drug abuse and alcoholism." As he is a member of Russia's public chamber, a
forum for experts, his views are slowly seeping into the elite. But in other ways Russia is not changing. In July, a huge billboard was put up near his house. The image was a frigate on the ocean. The slogan was crude: "Russia is a great sea superpower." 

In the Moscow office of Memorial, the atmosphere is sullen and tastes of cheap
tobacco and defeat. The place is kept alive on financial life support from the West. Once a powerful civil society organisation tackling historical issues and human rights abuses, it is today ignored, except when its members are murdered. Natalia Estimorova, who had been fighting violations in Grozny, was abducted and shot two weeks before I met Jan Rashinsky, its director of historical research. "What we are seeing is an attempt to return to some form of ideological control. It may be in a softer format than the one witnessed in the Soviet Union, but it is control none the less. This is exemplified by the recent decisions to work towards establishing a ‘correct version' of the history of the Second World War and of Stalinism. A state history commission has been established, tellingly with no historians." The brown walls of his office are covered in documents and photos from the 1930s. I ask him about the creeping rehabilitation of Stalin himself. "This was the inevitable result of their attempts to restore the legitimacy of the superstate. Stalin, its great helmsman, was thus restored to part of his former lustre." 

This is lauded by Sergei Markov. He once worked closely with Chase Manhattan and the National Democratic Institute. But Russia has changed and so has he. Today, he is a member of the United Russia Party and joint-chairman of the National Security Council.  

"I followed the circle of politicians symbolised by Putin who sought to rebuild the Russian state after the chaos of the 1990s. That is why I am now a member of the Duma and am supporting the next stage — the imposition of certain ideological controls." I ask Markov which constituency he represented. He answers a little too quickly: "I represent the Kremlin. Oh, I don't mean that. Don't quote me on that. I represent Moscow region." 

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Bill Corr
October 6th, 2009
10:10 AM
The dismemberment of the Soviet Empire caused tragic suffering ... even the remaining Pontic Greeks were involved as victimes

September 29th, 2009
3:09 PM
The "harsh consonant" "D"? Idiotic.

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