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Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
On tour with President Bush - Day Five
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 Five - Dateline: St Petersburg
26 May

In the battle of the home towns, Vladimir Putin wins hands down.

Whereas President Bush can offer the folksy delights of Crawford, Texas, a one-horse town with a nice little coffee shop and a huge corrugated iron grain silo, the Russian president can point to St Petersburg, a thoroughbred of a city, with lavish baroque architecture, mighty boulevards and an intricate web of pretty, tree-lined canals.

Russia's second city is by far its most beautiful. It is no wonder that Mr Putin wanted his new buddy to see it.

Putin and Bush visit the Mariinsky opera and ballet theatre
Putin took President Bush to see some Russian ballet
Mr Putin was born in Leningrad, as it was then, (the name was changed back to St Petersburg in 1991 following a city-wide referendum), 49 years ago, into a city still ravaged by the war.

His father, Vladimir S Putin, helped defend the city against the German forces whose 900-day siege of the city led to the deaths of some one million people.

The German plan was to starve and bombard the people of the city into submission. But they never gave in.

Famous son

It was fitting, then, that George W Bush's visit to the city began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery, where around 500,000 of the victims are buried.

So many people were killed that it was impossible to bury them individually. Instead, there bodies were placed in mass graves identified simply by the years in which they died - 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945.

Mr Putin is a product of post-war St Petersburg. Not only was he born and raised in the city. He was educated here to.

Putin shows the American president the university's book collection
Putin revisited his old university with President Bush
Mr Putin took Mr Bush to St Petersburg University, his alma mater, where he studied law in the early-1970s. Vladimir Lenin also studied law at the university, completing his degree by correspondence during his years in exile.

After graduating in 1975, Mr Putin spent the next 16 years working for the KGB. But he returned to his home city in 1990, taking up a teaching post at his old university.

At the same time, he took on a job at the mayor's office in St Petersburg, where he placed in charge of attracting international investment.

Restless and ambitious, Mr Putin was rising fast, becoming a leading light in the city's reform-minded leadership, serving as deputy mayor between 1992 and 1996.

Mr Putin has to do for Russia what he did for St Petersburg. To stimulate economic growth by attracting foreign investment, and by restoring its self-confidence.

It is no surprise that entry into the World Trade Organisation has become his government's chief priority.

St Petersburg is a most vivid symbol of the country's glorious past.

Its most famous son, Vladimir Putin, could be the man to secure its future.




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