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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Volga River resort hosts summit
By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Volzhsky Utyos, Russia

From left to right: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and  Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Volzhsky Utyos resort
The participants were flown to the resort by helicopters
The Samara summit between Russia and the EU is actually taking place miles away from the city.

The venue is a summer resort on the banks of the tranquil River Volga, upstream of the town of Togliatti and next to one of Russia's most famous nature reserves.

This part of the country is more than 1,000km (621 miles) from the buzz of the capital Moscow.

Its only attraction is Ladaland - an enormous car factory which churns out thousands of boxy Russian classics.

The Ladas are everywhere - in endless factory car parks, on the streets, in the backyards of freshly painted Soviet-era high-rises.

'Flurry of painting'

Togliatti looks like it has just had cosmetic surgery. The tarmac on main streets is a deep shade of unworn black - only weeks old, according to local drivers.

We should be friends with Europe. I know these are difficult times, but we won't survive without one another
Andrei, local student

And everywhere you look, there are road signs in English - a rarity in Russia, and also a fresh addition to the local scene.

Local residents told us the town had seen a flurry of painting and fixing in recent weeks.

But away from TV-friendly central areas, Togliatti is mostly unchanged.

Like in any other Russian provincial town, roads are full of potholes, and quite a few buildings seem to be crying out for repair.

Volga Cliff

The only things missing from this usual set-up for a major international event hosted by Russia are rows of flags and "welcome" billboards.

Map

That is because none of the summit delegates will actually see Togliatti.

Politicians and their top advisers are staying across the river from the town, in the government-owned resort of Volzhsky Utyos - Volga Cliff.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso were all flown to Volzhsky Utyos straight from the local airport by government helicopters.

Their route took them over the Volga.

Down on the river, their progress was tracked by numerous police boats.

The river is now shut to the general public, as are all roads around the resort - police officers and soldiers are on patrol on every corner here.

No security threats have been reported, but the Kremlin is taking no chances.

Locals told us this was a major nuisance for them.

Two-hour talks

But people in Togliatti hope that there will be a point to it all.

"We should be friends with Europe," said Andrei, an 18-year-old-student who was out for a bicycle ride along the Volga.

"I know these are difficult times, but we won't survive without one another. After all, Russia is part of Europe."

Whether this geographical approximation is true, delegates to the summit will not really get a chance to check.

The talks here are only scheduled to last for two hours.

By Friday afternoon, all officials will be gone, and Togliatti will again turn from diplomacy to Ladas.


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