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Russia has endured some humiliating affronts to its national pride since it stopped being a superpower. And the love lavished by the country's girls on American dolls - especially the ubiquitous Barbie and Sindy - appeared to cause particular offense.

But no more. Slava Zaitsev, one of Russia's leading fashion designers, is attempting to create an adorable doll with a real "Russian spirit."Under the slogan "Goodbye Barbie, hello Marusia!" Zaitsev has staged a competition, attracting 15,000 girls aged 10 or below, to find the essence of Russian girlishness.

The panel of judges, consisting of artists, designers and toy makers, identified three girls - Katya, Vika, and Anya - as personifying the spirit of Marusia. They will serve as the inspiration for a new all-Russian doll.

Condemning Barbie as scrawny, cold, cynical and pragmatic, Zaitsev believes Marusia should be chubby, cosy and, most important, sincere.

"Look at our children. They are not only beautiful, but in every face there is a secret. That is how our Russian doll must be," he told the competitors at a Moscow nightclub.

It was not disclosed how quickly the doll will be designed and produced, but Zaitsev already appears to be developing big career plans for Marusia, believing her spiritual qualities will be much appreciated abroad.

But Marusia has a long way to go before she can match the high-flying Barbie, who is sold in 140 countries, and has been depicted as an airline pilot, beach babe and Unicef ambassador.

Zaitsev is renowned for his outlandish fashion shows and appears to be hatching some unconventional marketing ploys to promote his new product.

According to one of his story plots, Marusia would attach two giant balloons to a Barbie doll and threaten to float her skywards and out of Russian territory. But in a moving last-minute act of international reconciliation, she would reprieve her US comrade.