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Vladimir Putin played the role of the good tsar at his annual press conference, fielding questions, repeated declarations of grateful praise and requests to deal with unscrupulous businessmen and lazy bureaucrats. One excited journalist even credited him with an improvement in her love life, noting that she had “finally gotten married” shortly after meeting him in March.

Are you snarky or smarmy? Too much sunny side up will fry the brain

A Gawker essay has ignited a culture war on the value of niceness

To call Labour 'Stalinists' for proposing regulation is beyond absurd

Mind your back garden! The Communists are on the loose!

Russsian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the press after the annual call-in show on Russian television April

Vladimir Putin: Tycoon Boris Berezovsky asked for forgiveness in two handwritten letters

The Russian leader also denied that his new term has seen an increase in ‘Stalinist’ tendencies

Joseph Stalin hated his first son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, who surrendered to the Germans in 1941

Joseph Stalin’s hated son surrendered to the Nazis, archives reveal

Stalin is known to have despised his first son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, who is thought to have committed suicide in 1943

Karel Vas: Notorious communist prosecutor

Karel Vas, who died on 8 December at the age of 96, was a prosecutor who came to symbolise unlawful trials during the post-1948 communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Vas was one of the state prosecutors who played a key role in show trials that used fabricated evidence to hand out death sentences to opponents of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Born to rule? Scientists uncover gene that may help create natural leaders

A gene has been uncovered that may help to create born leaders.

Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56 By Anne Applebaum

A superb study in the savagery of Soviet invasion and occupation of the Eastern bloc

A museum guide shows a gold bust of the late dictator

Rebranding Stalin from hero to horror

It is an unusual way to begin a trip to a museum. "This museum is a falsification of history," reads a makeshift shiny banner placed at the grand entrance to the Stalin Museum in the Georgian city of Gori. "It is a typical example of Soviet propaganda and it attempts to legitimise the bloodiest regime in history."

Rebecca Tyrrel: Dan Aykroyd believes that aliens visit us because 'they don't dance like Mick Jagger'

Who knew that Dan Aykroyd, writer and star of Ghostbusters, has webbed toes? Who ya gonna call if you're born with two toes fused together by shared tissue? No one, that's who.

Was reaction to leader's death a result of love, fear – or a more sinister thing?

Such devotion appears to be both a survival mechanism and a product of mind control

Brain illness could have affected Stalin's actions, secret diaries reveal

Accounts by his inner circle give new insight into dictator's life

Boyd Tonkin: From murder to the marketplace

The week in books

How, over nearly eight decades of thinking and writing, Eric Hobsbawm tried to change the world

The Marxist historian died today. In this review for the Independent on Sunday, first published last February, the Editor examined Hobsbawm's philosophy

A Day That Shook The World: Big Three meet at Yalta

On 12 February 1945 a communiqué was issued at the Yalta Conference announcing the carve-up of soon-to-be-defeated Germany and parts of Eastern Europe.

Russia blames Polish pilot for Kaczynski air crash

Russian investigators yesterday pinned much of the blame for the plane crash which killed the Polish President last year on the chief of his air force who had been drinking and ordered the crew to land in terrible weather conditions.

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Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam