HIV, a virus that causes AIDS, poses a serious threat for every nation in the world, but it has reached epidemic proportions in parts of Russia. This week, in addition to addressing that issue, I'll dig out the stats on Russia's badly needed military reforms, tell you about President Vladimir Putin's chances of reelection, and lay an old spy mystery to rest.
Q: Please tell us a little about the HIV-AIDS situation in Russia. William Kerr, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
A: In Russia today, 140,000 people are registered as HIV-infected. As for AIDS, there are 552 patients. Some of our mass media say that the actual numbers are five to 10 times greater. In 2000, the number of AIDS patients was 2.6 times greater than the year before. In some areas of Russia there is what you might call an epidemic.
Eighty percent of the AIDS patients are young people, and most of them are drug addicts who often share needles. This year, 10 percent of those sick with AIDS were infected through sexual intercourse. Most people do not have the money (roughly $1,200 a month) for medications that fight the disease. An HIV patient without these medications and not observing a strict diet may live for 10 years. With medicine he or she could live for 20 to 30 years.
Here's something interesting. Twenty-five percent of Russians cannot be infected by AIDS because they have no "second receptor of HIV." Only 5 percent of people in the world have this genetic code. On TV and even on placards young people are urged to use safe sex or contraception.
Q: Who will be able to challenge President Putin when he comes up for election? Brad Bowers, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
A: It's a bit too early to say. A lot depends on the economic and political situation. It could be someone from the Union of Right Forces (SPS). The Communists have little chance of success. It could be Yevgeny Primakov, if he decides to run. He was prime minister, foreign minister and the head of foreign intelligence. But I repeat that it is too early to even guess. But if there is no major political or economic explosion, Putin will be reelected.
Q: I have read three books about British spy Sidney Reilly, and all of them agree that what happened to Reilly when he returned to Russia remains unknown. Could you enlighten us as to what happened to him? David Forrai, by e-mail
A: Sidney Reilly was an active agent who worked against the Soviet system in 1918 and 1919. One of his tasks was to do away with some of the Soviet leaders. His real name was Rosenblum. He was arrested by the Cheka, the dreaded security body, and shot in 1925.
Q: What is the progress of Russian military reforms? Has the Russian army disposed of conscription and gone over to volunteer service? Edwin Lowe, Reveby, NSW, Australia.
A: President Putin said that in the foreseeable future Russia may have a professional army an army where the soldiers and officers work on contract (voluntarily). The government is actively working on the financial and economic side of the problem. So it looks like we are working in the right direction, but we need the necessary economic conditions for this transfer.
In 2005, we will spend 12 times more on the military than in 1997. Strangely, today we have twice as many officers as sergeants. By 2005, we plan to cut our armed forces by 365,000. Some say we will reduce them by 600,000.
(E-mail questions to Joe Adamov at firstname.lastname@example.org.)