Against a backdrop of steady military gains for the opposition forces, Bashar Assad's government proposed a meeting. Critics call it a tactic to keep western arms out of opposition hands.
But critics say that his high-profile, flamboyant appearances echo the old Soviet-era practice of using sympathetic foreign celebrities to reflect well on the government.
The death of Max Shatto, a toddler adopted from Russia, brings grief to a Texas town and fires up protests in Russia, where a ban on US adoptions has taken on a cold-war tone.
A Kremlin ombudsman says that Russian 3-year-old Maxim Kuzmin was killed by his adoptive Texan mother last month. The accusation has stoked a new firestorm in Russia over US adoptions.
Russia's Internet is facing official efforts to rein it in. Users are in an uproar over suggestions they should soon be sent only to a list of approved websites proposed by The League for Internet Safety.
The country faces two competing visions of democracy, one that emphasizes majority rule versus another that stresses minority protections.
London 2012 cost $19 billion. Beijing 2008 clocked in at $40 billion. But Sochi's price may be more than $50 billion, sporting the world's most expensive road, amid allegations of corruption.
Volgograd will temporarily revert to its former name, Stalingrad, in commemoration of its WWII Soviet victory. But some see it as a Trojan horse for glorification of Stalinist times.
Russian experts say the downturn is a result of Putin's determination to do away with international pacts that he sees as demeaning or forcing Russia into a 'junior partner' role.
The Russian president has insisted on a full slate of his traditional macho stunts this year, including scuba diving and possibly a trip to the way down under.