Sebastian Smith

But is Russia democratic?

A Kremlin public-relations blitz ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) summit and an apparent softening of Washington's stance have failed to disguise an ill-tempered debate gnawing at the heart of East-West relations: is Russia democratic? By some counts, cooperation between Russia and its G8 partners is in rude health ahead of the summit.

Iranian president pledges mass atomic-fuel production

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed on Friday that Iran would pursue its contested nuclear programme until it could mass-produce atomic fuel, and branded those trying to stop it as ''bullies''. ''We intend to continue our activity ... until we manage industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel for our atomic power stations,'' Ahmadinejad said.

Madness of war spares few in traumatised Chechnya

Hidden from the world, deep in the endless ruins of the Chechen capital Grozny, a young man smiles at his mother through a cage door. She holds the key, but Iriskhan's true jailer is the madness he has suffered since the war in his homeland began just over a decade ago. Iriskhan was 18, when Russian troops first laid siege to Grozny, his mother Raisa says.

Russia accuses diplomats in mystery ‘stone’ case

Russia's intelligence service on Monday accused four British diplomats of involvement in a spy ring in which agents allegedly passed secrets through a high-tech communications system hidden in an innocent-looking stone in a Moscow park.

Russia’s disappearing men have ‘short, brutal’ lives

The approximately 3 000 unidentified bodies buried in a cemetery outside Moscow each year are the tip of a wider and potentially disastrous tendency in Russia. In a study earlier this month, the World Bank said Russian men have "short, brutal lives" and that the country faces an "alarming population decline".

West blasts Azerbaijan’s ‘retreat from democracy’

The West heaped criticism on Tuesday on Azerbaijan's conduct of parliamentary elections, but authorities in the oil-rich republic dug in their heels and denied major fraud. ''The elections were a step back for democracy in Azerbaijan,'' Norwegian Ambassador Steinar Gil told journalists in the ex-Soviet state's capital Baku.

Beslan mastermind thumbs his nose at Russia

He is Russia's most wanted man, with tens of thousands of soldiers on his trail, but a year after masterminding the Beslan massacre, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev remains at large, openly mocking the Kremlin. Meanwhile, hundreds of Beslan residents have signed a petition requesting political asylum abroad.

Enormous power outage hits Moscow

A massive power outage caused chaos in Moscow on Wednesday, stranding about 20 000 people in underground metro tunnels, disrupting traffic above ground and leaving large sections of the Russian capital without electricity. One report said effects were felt as far as Tula, 300km south of Moscow.

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