Blog: Russia springs back
Simon Warburton | 9 April 2013
Moscow's long dark winter finally appears to be inching towards an end - evidence of which can be seen - and heard - by the audible cracking of the ice in the mighty Moskva River as Russia emerges from its deep freeze into spring.
I'm here for the Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) at the World Trade Centre and took a couple of hours to wander around this incredible city - where every stone seems to ooze history - good and bad.
Just a snapshot of how business has to think on its feet in Russia was news of the RAF having to radically revamp its speaker line-up after several CEOs were abruptly called to Nizhny Novgorod at the behest of Prime Minister - recently President - Dimitri Medvedev.
When the government calls like that, you get on the first available aircraft and although it's not clear yet what the summons was for, people tell me here it's certainly not unusual for events to change that rapidly.
A sign of Moscow's - and Russia's - extraordinary resurgence - is its grid-locked streets whose choking tragic is causing the city fathers - and me - some serious grief - so I took a deep breath and tried the huge Metro network yesterday.
It's fair to say as someone used to the London and Paris underground systems, the Moscow Metro is like nowhere else on earth. This is a subterranean marvel of imposing pillars, dramatic chandeliers and mosaics, an Aladdin's cave, that, given its Stalinist-era construction in 1935, is a complete show-stopper, replete with redoubtable Russian ladies at the bottom of escalators scrutinising all travellers.
That didn't prevent me becoming hopelessly confused by its Cyrillic alphabet mind but up sprang a helpful Muscovite to make sense of my map - and ticket - and not only take me to my destination but show me the vast Soviet war memorial at Park Pobedi (Victory Park) whose Metro station is reputed to have the world's longest escalator, which I can well believe. My helpful guide showed me through the Metro system, while his unofficial and knowledgeable tour of the Soviet memorial, he was previously in the military as so many in Russia, was fascinating. The kindness of strangers indeed.
The Germans were only 50km from Moscow apparently and the cost of that Great Patriotic War as they call it here - as well as Napoleon's 1812 retreat from the capital - are inscribed on walls, bridges and monuments everywhere.
I was also shown the stunning Russian Orthodox church of St George the Victorious - whose gold cupolas are echoed in every unlikely nook and cranny of Moscow - and I miraculously made my way back on the Metro - suddenly conscious people were staring at my 'Michigan' hoodie - purchased at Troy, Detroit's Walmart for US$12 if you please - to trendy Arbatskaya and then on foot to Krasnaya Ploshad or Red Square.
I was suddenly aware just in front of the Kremlin that the usual roar of endless traffic had abruptly halted and in fact was being held back by squadrons of police vehicles. The eerie silence - only replicated earlier by the war memorial - was now well and truly broken by the wailing of sirens and a motorcade of huge proportions. Nearby Russians said it was President Putin - who knows - but it's a sure bet the limo with blacked out windows was not going to be burdened with anything as trivial as Moscow's horrendous car jams.
I was looking at the Kremlin walls in front of which so many Soviet leaders and the Politburo had witnessed countless Red Square military parades - and sent a shiver down western spines to boot in the increasingly cold war - when a text came through of Baroness Thatcher's death - a poignantly apt place to hear of the news given the former British Prime Minister's role in fighting the extremes of communism.
And just a small footnote to show how far Moscow - and Russia - is powering ahead - not only in its traditional staples of oil and gas - but in business in general. As we landed at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, I saw a British Airways 747 parked on the ramp.
A Boeing 747? For a three and a half hour flight from London? This is clearly a place - to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher - to do business.
Addendum: I wrote this in the famous Ukraina Hotel - one of the so-called 'Seven Sisters' gargantuan wedding cake structures in Moscow instituted by Stalin and which sits on the dramatic bend in the Moskva River.
There's an enormous 1:75 model of Moscow - or 'Capital of the USSR' as the audio guide tells me - that must be 20 feet across.
The USSR might be no more, but Russia's resurgence is everywhere to see.
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