In search of Russia
President Dmitry Medvedev’s conference on the modern state and global security this week was an object lesson in efficiency and organisation. Four hours north east of Moscow in the ancient city of Yaroslavl, security was tight but not overbearing, hundreds of Moscow and Saint Petersburg students guided guests to their hotels and waited tables with exquisite fish, caviar, pastries, vegetables and fruit in a marquee beside the conference hall.
Russia was showing the face of a modern state with a global role.
Escaping the speeches for a view of Yaroslavl’s medieval Kremlin and onion-domed churches and monasteries, a few of us set off down the road from the conference centre in search of a taxi to drive us into town. The modern conference grounds quickly gave way to small wooden kiosks selling ‘products’, ‘vegetables’ – no brand names here.
No taxi either but there was a kiosk selling water melons, run by an Azeri eager to earn some extra cash.
His Lada stank of petrol and exhaust fumes belched inside the car every time it pulled away from every junction. He told us police sometimes stopped him because of his dark colouring – in this part of northern Russia blonde is the order of the day. And he complained that his invalid allowance – he had kidney problems – barely covered the cost of his medicine.
Bumping into the centre of Yaroslavl, the Volga stretched before us, we saw a harbour packed with millionaire’s boats. Out of the car and walking through the ancient gates of the Kremlin, we were greeted by an old woman sitting on a wooden chair.
Can the real Russia please step forward?