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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
On tour with President Bush - Day Three
The BBC's Nick Bryant is travelling with US President George W Bush on his European tour. He is sending us regular e-mails charting the president's progress around the continent.


Day Three - Dateline: Moscow
24 May

In Russia, everything has changed, and nothing has changed.

As we banked sharply into land at Vnukovo II airport, there was the blue and yellow shimmer of an IKEA furniture store, ushering in a new era in Russian interior decoration.

President Bush and Laura Bush arrive in Moscow
No problems at passport control for President Bush
Then, within minutes of landing, we were reminded of the ways in which this country has yet to break with the past.

Normally, when the White House press corps lands in a foreign country, a jaunty young woman from the American Immigration and Naturalisation Service skips playfully down the steps of our Jumbo, brandishing the 200 or so passports belonging to the passengers on board.

This bundle is presented en masse to our compliant hosts, who nod approvingly before directing us to our waiting fleet of coaches.

It is one of the great joys of accompanying the president: passport-light, customs-free travel.

We are whisked away from airports within minutes of arriving.

Bureaucracy

Sadly, it seems, our friends in Russian immigration are not yet prepared to 'liquidate the legacy of the Cold War', as the Mr Bush might put it.

Quite the contrary. They were job worth's job worths - champion bureaucrats who took a sinister pleasure in throwing not only a spanner in the works, but the whole wretched tool box.

Rather than wave us through, the Russians insisted that all 200 passengers on board reclaim their passports from our White House handlers (we hand them in weeks before the trip to get the appropriate visas and never see them again until we arrive back in Washington), and present them one by one.

Mayhem subsequently ensued - a disquieting act of journalistic 'unilateralism', with every reporter rushing forward in the race to reclaim their passport.

Russian President Vladamir Putin
Mr Putin's bold new Russia or back in the USSR?
On the American east coast, newspaper deadlines were fast approaching, evening news shows were waiting to roll.

At the front of our Jumbo, nerves were beginning to fray, as the press pack crushed in on our jaunty young immigration woman.

The White House travel office, a smoothly functioning machine, which does not take kindly to spanners, tried to restore order out of the chaos.

Passport control

We would collect our passports in alphabetical order.

The mighty American television networks... even the mighty New York Times...even the mighty Ron Fournier of Associated Press, who, by virtue of the White House press corps seniority system, gets to ask the first question at every presidential press conference...would have to wait their turn.

Being a 'B', I was one of the lucky ones. Arturo Zampaglione, of the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica was not so fortunate.

The whole process took over an hour. And there we were thinking we had arrived in Vladimir Putin's bold new Russia. When really we were back in the USSR.



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