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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Shows Ukraine Is Not Russia

MTVisitors checking out exhibits at the Moscow International Book Fair, which opened Wednesday at the All-Russia Exhibition Center.
In the gangster flick "25th Hour," Ed Norton's drug dealer suggests his sidekick is a little persnickety to insist on being called Ukrainian, not Russian.

"There's a difference?" he wonders.

At the launch of his new book Wednesday, titled simply "Ukraine Is Not Russia," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma spends 513 pages explaining that there most certainly is.

Kuchma was the star turn at the bustling opening of the 16th International Book Fair at the All-Russia Exhibition Center.

After a quick circuit of the main pavilion accompanied by Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin -- and a small posse of stony-faced security guards -- Kuchma fielded journalists' questions in mid-fair.

"I don't hide that the book was written in Russian," Kuchma said to assembled book fans. "I still can't write freely in Ukrainian. I can speak fluently, but not in the kind of Ukrainian that our writers curse me in."

What started as a long article penned during a first presidential term evolved into a weighty tome retailing at 250 rubles ($8) a throw.

Staff at Moscow's Vremya publishing house reported 300 visitors had bought the book, the cover of which shows a smiling Kuchma squatting in a field of blue flowers.

The genre? "Explanatory," the book's introduction intones, "... for those millions of people in Ukraine and Russia who do not understand this simple truth. For them my book may be of use."

And Kuchma wasn't the only head of state to roll out his literary efforts.

"Zabibah and the King," a romantic novel by fugitive Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, was also on sale.

Yelena Suvorova of publisher Amfora said that her company had been approached by a former staffer at the Iraqi Embassy with the offer. "When we read it, we found it was actually quite good," she said.

But while there had been plenty of interest, Hussein would not be attending the official launch 1 p.m. Thursday in person, Suvorova added.

"People were asking if we have anything by bin Laden," muttered one of her colleagues.

To whet visitors' appetites for the pending fourth edition of what once was the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, a handsomely bound gray-blue volume was on hand.

Its glossy pages, however, were blank.

The greatest minds in Russia will fill the 30 volumes of the Great Russian Encyclopedia with some 80,000 articles over the coming decade, according to Sergei Kravets, the project's chief editor, with the first volume available next March.

"The encyclopedia will definitely include Yukos and LUKoil," he said, when asked if the oligarchs would warrant an entry.

"But individual articles devoted to [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky probably won't be included. Its harder with [Boris] Berezovsky, since he starts with 'B' and there's no time to ponder his inclusion."

Overall the atmosphere at the fair was chaotic, but festive.

Some books were heralded with a peal of bells, while others relied on knights in armor and folk singers to draw attention. Saudi Arabia's publishers were housed in a separate marquee guarded by machine gun-toting OMON troops in anticipation of Crown Prince Abdullah's arrival.

Outside, identically bearded young men from the New Era publishing house encouraged passers-by to delve into the works of L. Ron Hubbard, while inside, St. Petersburg publisher Continuing Life had attracted a large crowd of middle-aged men with its broad and vividly illustrated selection of sex manuals.