In the republic of Kalmykia, Russian politics are at their most barmy - and yet most sinister.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the eccentric President, has just announced he'll seek the Russian Presidency in 2000. A multi-millionaire at 35, he's been accused of serious corruption. Kalmykia is an island of Asia inside Europe, where chess is compulsory at school. The economy is based on sheep farming. When the international wool market collapsed, so did Kalmykia's economy.
Campaigning journalist Larissa Yudina tells us Kirsan Ilyumzhinov stole state money destined to sheer up wool industry. Ilyumzhinov tells us it's not true. Larissa's newspaper is the republic's only independent paper and can't be published inside Kalmykia. It faces a constant round of eviction. Larissa also claims Kirsan Ilyumzhinov gained his absolute power over the republic by rigging votes for Yeltsin. Perhaps her brutal murder last week confirms her beliefs.
On the surface, life in Kalmykia is getting merrier by the day, with a revival of both Buddhism and Kalmuck culture. Buddhism was brutally suppressed by the Soviets. But now Kalmykia is becoming Europe's only Buddhist State. It's temple was opened last year by the Dalai Lama. Kalmuck culture was suppressed under communism, but now festivals are being revived.
Ilyumzhinov now plans to exploit Kalmykia's oil, gas and caviar to forge a tiger economy. The bureaucrats from Moscow are clearly impressed - but the jury is still out on the remarkable republic's President.