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Russia: Moscow Takes High Security Measures To Prepare For Bush's Visit

  • Francesca Mereu

Russia took a wide range of security measures ahead of the three-day summit of the U.S. and Russian presidents, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, which began today with the signing of an arms-reduction treaty at the Kremlin. In Moscow, the streets near the centrally located hotel where Bush and the first lady spent the night, were completely closed to traffic and surrounded by police officers.

Moscow, 24 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian authorities have launched a major security operation to guarantee a safe stay for U.S. President George W. Bush during a three-day summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Snipers were posted on rooftops at the airport and near Bush's hotel in central Moscow.

Today, Russian television said that officials from the police had recommended that people leave their cars at home and to use the metro to get to the city center. As a result, the central ring road that encompasses the center of Moscow was free of its usual chaotic traffic today.

The Interfax news agency reported that some 400 policemen were assigned to patrol Moscow's central streets today and yesterday.

The streets leading to the Marriott hotel where the U.S. president and first lady spent Thursday night were closed to traffic yesterday morning, and hours before Bush's arrival, police officers were already working to clear the neighboring streets of any pedestrians.

But a small crowd of Muscovites managed to gather on a street across from the hotel to witness the president's arrival last night. Tamara Gorbunova, a 55-year-old German-language teacher, was one of them.

"I came here especially to meet Bush. I have friends in America who have adopted sick [Russian] children and have helped them to improve their health. I'm so happy. I love [America] and its people," Gorbunova said.

But Gorbunova said she didn't like the security measures the Moscow police had taken ahead of the president's arrival.

"Maybe it is necessary to have this kind of security when a president [arrives], but I'd like to have a lot of people [waiting for him here]. Many people would like to see the president. I remember how our president [Putin] was welcomed in America. People welcomed him. The cortege stopped and he approached people. I'd really like it if [Bush also] stopped, but if he doesn't stop [it's fine]. This is impossible in our country, since our government doesn't trust people and this is very bad," Gorbunova said.

But when Bush's cortege arrived, the police did not allow people to approach the presidential cars. Sergei, a 40-year-old police officer, told RFE/RL that "orders were orders," and he said people were not supposed to get close to the president, "just in case."

After President Bush and the first lady had safely entered the hotel, Boris, another police officer, told RFE/RL with a smile that everything had gone according to procedure. "I was waiting for the president, George Bush. We got ready as usual, according to the standard procedure. Everything was quiet, and everything is going fine. This is the way a president should be welcomed," the officer said.

Several hours before Bush arrived, some 400 communist and anti-Western demonstrators staged a noisy protest near the U.S. embassy, setting the American flag alight and chanting anticapitalist and anti-Bush slogans.

A smaller protest was also held in St. Petersburg, where Bush is to visit tomorrow. Several tens of people gathered outside St. Petersburg State University to protest the policies of both Bush and Putin. But protests in both cities were peaceful and no serious incidents were reported.

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