[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
City of the new tsar?
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News Online, St Petersburg

The hoarding at the spanking new Ladoga Station says "Time to live in St Petersburg!" but the terminal is still not open to passengers.

Laser show seen from Hermitage museum roof
Spectacular events are marking the city's rebirth
Across town in the west, the equestrian statue at the newly-restored Konstantinovsky Palace is still under wraps.

But no-one here is under any doubt that the guests due to descend on Vladimir Putin's new summer residence by the sea will be rolling in on schedule later this week.

Heads of state and government from across the globe will have the freedom of Russia's second city for an event this week which to some must look less like a 300th birthday party than the coronation of a new tsar.

Whether Mr Putin, St Petersburg's most famous son, plans to give back the pre-Revolutionary capital any of its former status, however, is quite another matter.

A proposal a few years ago by the city's Governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, to begin transferring government ministries was greeted by howls of protest in Moscow.

Konstantinovsky Palace
Putin's new residence by the sea has been restored at great expense
He may have had a point: Peter the Great's capital has conserved a spectacular ensemble of administrative buildings which adequately served the government of Imperial Russia.

Mr Putin has made it clear that he does not want Mr Yakovlev to run in forthcoming elections, but this has much less to do with the injured feelings of Muscovites than the president's apparent desire to assert his total control over the second city.

Putin allies and fellow Petersburgers already occupy many key posts in the federal government and presidential administration, and the governorship of their home city is a natural aim.

City under siege

As the anniversary celebrations reach their climax, the five million citizens of the city once known as Leningrad are feeling the full might of who they might have regarded as "their man in the Kremlin".

Motorists are being told by police to avoid vast areas of the city when George W Bush and other world leaders arrive at the weekend.

The airport is shutting down for three days.

Moscow travel agents have been discouraging Russian tourists from heading to the city in the hope of seeing the much-vaunted water fireworks and laser displays.

Cruise ships which normally make such a feature of visiting the Venice of the North are being banned from the water.

Museums and monuments are closing their doors.

Sailing ship Shtandart, a replica of Peter the Great's ship
Despite the lavish events, many residents feel left out
The streets are saturated with police, including "anti-pickpocket experts" drafted in from all over Russia. Plainclothes officers conduct preventative house-to-house checks as army troop carriers in full camouflage paint roar to and fro on the avenues.

For those who have had enough of the security clampdown, Afisha, the local what's-on guide, runs a list of "nice spots free of the occupation regime" - all away from the centre.

One is a visit to a disused submarine - possibly the quietest place to be in St Petersburg this week.

Fringe benefits

There is little party atmosphere on the dusty streets in the south of the city where I am staying and it is a struggle for my friends who live locally to get time off work to attend the 300th anniversary events during the week.

Any anticipation of the weekend ahead is tinged with the suspicion that the best bits of town will be off-limits to anyone but the G8 leaders and their entourage.

Ladoga Station
Ladoga Station may be the most lasting legacy of celebrations
But if it is a quiet kind of anniversary for many residents, St Petersburg does intend to capitalise on its week in the spotlight.

The city has seen a boom in hotel construction, in the hope that waves of tourists will follow in Mr Bush's wake.

There are numerous new attractions to mark the anniversary, ranging from metal park benches donated by Switzerland to 500 frost-resistant rose bushes given by France.

However, the high-tech Ladoga railway station, destined to service the Urals and Siberia, will probably stand as the most enduring legacy.


The city's ageing Moscow Station, by contrast, retains its gloomy atmosphere, giving the impression that St Petersburg's face is still turned away from the city which usurped its status under the Bolsheviks.

President Putin's new residence, a war-damaged tsarist palace restored in haste at great expense, will open its doors to the public once the VIPs are gone, adding to the list of the city's architectural treasures.

The Konstantinovsky, with its ponds and its view onto the Gulf of Finland, is very much a summer holiday home for the head of state, and the feeling is that once he heads back to Moscow, St Petersburg will return to its allotted place, beautiful to see but far from the centre of power.

St Petersburg marks anniversary
27 May 03  |  Europe
Russian city's angry anniversary
27 May 03  |  Europe
BBC's St Petersburg tributes
23 Apr 03  |  Entertainment


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific