Mid-July is probably the best time to visit the far northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk. And when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived there on July 11, he saw his city at its unbelievable best. The local authorities saw to that.RFE/RL's Russian Service
reports that officials at the port city have been beavering away for two months to make sure that Putin's day there is breathtaking. Trees have been spruced up, pitted roads have been repaved, and journalists have been "strongly encouraged" to make sure only good news graces the local papers for the week preceding the trip. All this, despite the fact that the visit wasn't even officially announced beforehand.
"Nothing like this has ever happened in Arkhangelsk Oblast," local journalist Aleksandr Kuleshov told RFE/RL ruefully. "On Sunday, for instance, I walked downtown and everywhere they are washing and painting. I've never seen anything like it in my life. If they did even half of these things regularly, as a matter of course each year, then maybe this would be a normal city."
The prime minister's appearance in this far corner of the country was prompted by problems at the nearby Sevmash shipyard, which is in the process of modernizing the cruiser "Admiral Gorshkov" for India. Last year, the shipyard announced that the long-delayed project would cost nearly twice the original estimate. New Delhi was not amused.
The shipyard recently suffered another setback when a nearly new million-euro crane collapsed and was damaged beyond repair. The Kremlin was not amused.
But today Arkhangelsk is spic and span. The present never looked so bright!
-- Igor Klyuchnikov