For those who read into my account the suggestion that there are vulnerabilities in the presidential security, my best advice is to send in emails to the Kremlin urging Vladimir Vladimirovich to yet again sack his security detail. The last thing we all need is regime change in Russia.
Kremlinology is alive and well…in Russia
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
In the days leading up to the 4th International Cultural Forum in St Petersburg that closed today, Russian media promoted the event to the domestic audience as the “Davos of Culture.” There would be 9,000 visitors to concerts, dance performances and panel discussions led by curators, film directors and a lot of well-known art scholars. The venues were concentrated in the General Staff building of the Hermitage on Palace Square but also spread out across the historic center of the city. The international dimension would come from diplomats and government officials from more than 40 countries. If Europe would be woefully underrepresented (just Luxembourg was on the roster of participants), there would be a lot of Far Eastern worthies to make up the gaps. Moreover, the biggest foreign presence was UNESCO-related, part of the 70th anniversary of that institution which just happens to be headed by a Russian-speaking graduate of the Moscow University for International Affairs, Irina Bokova (Bulgaria).
However, out on the streets of St Petersburg, the hoopla of the Cultural Forum was just a backdrop for the visit to the city of President Vladimir Putin, who has not been here for months, I was told. Taxi drivers, who were in Soviet times and remain today among the best informed and eager interlocutors about the ins and outs of politics, were speculating on the imminent removal of St Petersburg Governor Georgi Poltavchenko, because he was nowhere to be seen at the big events of the Forum, whereas the big bosses from Moscow were everywhere.
The expected appearance of Vladimir Putin at opening ceremonies of the Forum was known for weeks in advance and was the talk of the town. On the one hand, a vast number of little celebrities would vie for an invitation to these closed events. On the other hand, the various ‘security organs’ at local and federal levels would outdo themselves to ensure there were no incidents.
Some bright guys in these special services put so many hurdles in the path of issuing badges, with or without access to certain events (notably the ones with Putin), with or without holograms, that their computer system crashed, causing utter chaos in processing visitors from the general public, journalists and participants in the Forum. The madness continued at the entrance to the Mariinsky-2 Theater, where the main opening ceremony was held Monday evening. Our printed invitations proved to be worthless. The end result was improvised violation of the system by the staff who were totally overwhelmed and pasted on the essential holograms to move folks along.
Once past the lines for re-accreditation, past the machine verification of access and the metal detectors, a surreal calm and note of elegant hospitality at the presidential level took over. Flutes of champagne were distributed by radiant young staff.
Putin did not keep us waiting. He was first to speak on stage, delivering a brief salutation to the audience and making a quick exit. The two hour ceremony was followed by a traditional Russian walking dinner as guests thronged and picked clean the passing trays of caviar and crab sandwiches.
For those who read into my account the suggestion that there are vulnerabilities in the presidential security, my best advice is to send in emails to the Kremlin urging Vladimir Vladimirovich to yet again sack his security detail and bring in more clever folks. The last thing we all need is regime change in Russia, whatever Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Masha Gessen have been telling the readers of The New York Times.
As my well-informed taxi drivers tell me regularly, the man one heart-beat away from Vladimir Putin is Sergei Ivanov. A President Ivanov would make Putin look like a pussy-cat in dealing with the West. And if Ivanov goes, next in line is likely Dmitry Rogozin, another fervent patriot and Kremlin favorite. There are no Liberals beloved of the West in Russia’s present Matryoshka doll of power. That is a message that Beltway insiders would do well to absorb.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
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G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to firstname.lastname@example.org