Here is a sinister little story from Russia. Memorial, an organisation dedicated to documenting the horrors of Stalinism, has had its offices in Saint Petersburg raided. Orlando Figes, the distinguished historian, is outraged and reckons it is all part of an official effort to rehabilitate Stalin and the Soviet Union.

If there is a cult of personality in modern Russia, it is clearly still centred around Vladimir Putin. The prime minister staged his annual phone-in show last week and hugely amused the audience by publicly discussing the rumour that he had threatened to have the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, “hung by one part”. (The balls, in fact.) This kind of remark sounds entirely in character. Putin is obsessed with castration. I was once at a press conference in Brussels with him, when he offered to castrate the Le Monde correspondent, whose offence had been to ask a question about Chechnya.

Meanwhile, Putin’s personal style becomes ever more imperial. I was chatting over the weekend to a senior western European politician who claims that Putin rarely gets into the office before 11am and then usually goes off to the gym for a couple of hours. But this is not to say he is slacking. He likes to make 3am phone calls to his officials. Now who does that remind me of?

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