Sidebar: Fun Facts About Putin's Russia


–Nikita Mikhalkov, filmmaker and Putin sycophant extraordinaire, is the eldest son of Sergei Mikhalkov, the Soviet-era poet/propagandist and three-time lyricist of the Soviet/Russian anthem. Originally composed in 1944, the verses later had to be tweaked to eliminate references to Stalin. When Putin resuscitated the anthem in 2000, the senior Mikhalkov, then 87, wrote entirely new lyrics, in which "the triumph of the deathless ideas of Communism" gave way to verses about "our ancestors' hallowed wisdom" and "a country watched over by God."

–In 2007 Russia celebrated November 7 as a holiday for the last time. The holiday, which originally commemorated the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and was clumsily reinvented in the Yeltsin era as a "day of national accord and reconciliation," is being retired in favor of November 4 as National Unity day, commemorating a rather obscure historical event: the defeat, in 1612, of a Polish garrison that controlled Moscow during the 17th century's "Time of Troubles." In, commentator Boris Sokolov points out that the new holiday contains all the principal elements of the new Russia's ideology: a strong authoritarian state (the November 4 victory was a precursor to the establishment of the Romanov monarchy), populist rhetoric (it was the victory of a "people's army," albeit led by two princes), and religion (the victory was widely credited to an icon of the Virgin carried by Moscow's liberators). Of course, it is also conveniently close to November 7.

–Amazing, but true: Post-1917 Soviet history has invariably featured alternating bald and hairy leaders. The bald Lenin was succeeded by the hairy Stalin, then the bald Khrushchev, then the hairy Brezhnev, then the bald Andropov, then the hairy Chernenko, and finally the bald Gorbachev. The tradition has continued in post-Soviet Russia: Gorbachev was succeeded by the hairy Yeltsin and then the follically challenged Putin—who is about to hand over the reins to Medvedev, with a full head of hair.

–"Medved" is Russian for "bear," the symbol of United Russia. This prompted columnist Anton Orekh to observe that "with Medvedev at the top, the power structure is now perfect: Medvedev the chief, a ruling party of medvedi under him, and the 'Mishki' [Little Bears] for the kids. All that's left is to rename Russia 'The Bear Den'—which would be rather fitting, in view of our cold climate and general hibernation."