Travel Passengers dine in the restaurant car of the Red Arrow to St Petersburg

For 150 years the railway line between Moscow and St Petersburg ran as straight as an arrow for 403 miles. Straight, but for one big bend near Novgorod. The story goes that Tsar Nicholas was so fed up of officials dithering over the route that he plonked a ruler on the map and drew a straight line between the two cities, accidentally drawing around his finger in the process. Too terrified to point out his error, the builders constructed the railway with the Tsar's bump in place.

Egypt's Army Chief and Defence Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, walks with Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu

Red carpet for Russians fuels speculation over Egypt's US alliance

Some analysts interpret Moscow delegation's trip as a shot across Washington's bows

Women's football: Birmingham Ladies make debut on St Andrew's turf

Birmingham City Ladies will make history this evening when they appear at St Andrew's for the first time for the second leg of their Women's Champions League last-16 tie.

Rachael Neustadt with her children, from left, Meir, Jonathan and Daniel

Mother Rachael Neustadt’s fight to return sons from Russia blocked by Moscow court

A former teacher whose Russian ex-husband refused to return their two sons after they went for a visit to Russia has suffered a setback in her landmark legal fight to win them back.

Alvaro Negredo tucks home City’s third

Manchester City 5 CSKA Moscow 2 match report: Alvaro Negredo hat-trick and Sergio Aguero double sends City through and Russian fans packing

Ever since Malcolm Allison declared that his club would now hurl themselves on “the cowards of Europe” and promptly got himself knocked out in the first round by Fenerbahce, the European Cup has cast its shadow over Manchester City.

Putin is a 'proud buff dude' and Russia should not be vilified for anti-gay laws ahead of Sochi Olympic Games, says US swimmer

Richard Alther appeals to Russia President to treat gay athletes with compassion and respect

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s father arrives in Moscow

Lon Snowden expresses gratitude to Russia and Putin for providing safe haven to the NSA whistleblower

Book review: One Night in Winter, By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of two books on Stalinist Russia, has also turned his hand to fiction. Inspired by "several true stories", this latest novel revisits Moscow during the last years of Stalin, the Red Tsar – an era characterised by paranoia and high-level betrayals. As the book's epilogue reminds us, "the familiar dilemmas of family life, the prizes and perils of children, adultery and career, have higher stakes than if the story was set in Hampstead."

'I must go': Elton John is due to perform in Moscow and Kazan
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is protesting against “slave labour”

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova goes on hunger strike in jail

A jailed member of the punk band Pussy Riot has launched a hunger strike to protest against living conditions in prison which she says “treat women like cattle”.

Armed Russian security officers storm Greenpeace ship and hold 30 activists at gunpoint, environmental group says

Activists have issued a plea to Vladimir Putin to order the Coast Guard - a branch of Russia's Federal Security Service - to 'holster their guns'

Farah is the current Olympic and world champion in the 5,000m and 10,000m

Mo Farah thinks about going for golden treble in Rio

Mo Farah could conceivably target a golden treble at the next Olympics, according to the great Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie.

A psychiatric hospital was destroyed by fire in the Novgorod region town of Luka.

Thirty-seven die as 19th Century wooden psychiatric hospital in Russia burns down

Fire is thought to have been caused by a patient either smoking or setting himself alight

Alexei Navalny speaks to the press outside his headquarters in Moscow, Russia

Moscow mayor election: Defeat for Vladimir Putin’s biggest rival Alexei Navalny may yet be a pivotal moment

Anti-corruption candidate sought votes by attacking Russia’s president

Opposition candidate in Moscow mayoral election, Alexei Navalny

Moscow mayor election: Alexei Navalny demands new vote after losing to Vladimir Putin's key ally Sergei Sobyanin

Allegations of 'clear falsifications'  by the Putin-backed incumbent lead to calls for a run-off vote and threats of public protest

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Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
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Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'