Imperial Petersburg goes on ‘war footing’ for G20

The local authorities in Saint Petersburg insist they are working to minimize disruption to locals and the thousands of media and delegations attending the summit

G20 IN RUSSIA. A man walks past the posters promoting G20 summit in St.Petersburg, on September 2, 2013. AFP / Olga Maltseva

SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia – Guarded by roadblocks and accessible only by water, the historic palace outside Saint Petersburg that will host the two-day G20 summit starting Thursday, September 5, is on a “war footing” that has already irked locals.

Russia will welcome leaders of the world’s 20 major economies to the seashore palace complex in Strelna, which was initially begun under the reign of the city’s founder Peter the Great.

The complex is already well used to hosting summits — it was here President Vladimir Putin hosted the G8 summit in 2006 — but security measures are expected to be extreme even by the standards of recent events.

Saint Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport will be closed to normal traffic on September 5-6 as it concentrates solely on ensuring the safe arrival and departure of the leaders’ planes.

Tourists hoping to visit the most famous of Petersburg’s imperial palaces, Peterhof, which lies just west of Strelna, on September 5 will be disappointed as it will be entirely closed to regular visitors.

Instead it is likely to be world leaders ruminating on the troubles of the global economy and the crisis in Syria that will be strolling amid the Peterhof palace’s famously ornate fountains.

Since August 22, locals in Strelna living close to the palace have needed a pass just to go home with a roadblock checking all traffic going into the area.

“It’s as if we have been put on a war footing,” said resident Tatyana Fyodorova.

“We are just looking forward to the end of this nightmare,” added another local, Marina Filippova. “This summit is for the bosses, it is not for the ordinary people.”

Locals in Saint Petersburg like to look at the political frenzy in the Russian capital Moscow with some disdain, preferring to see their city as the true home of Russia’s intellectual soul.

The capital was moved from Saint Petersburg after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and even in Soviet times, when it was known as Leningrad, the city proudly retained a different atmosphere.

The local authorities in Saint Petersburg insist they are working to minimize disruption to locals and the thousands of media and delegations attending the summit but staying in Saint Petersburg will only be able to get there by boat.

Meanwhile the world leaders will spend their nights in luxury pavilions next to the palace within the secure zone.

“The city is ready for the summit, one hundred percent,” said city governor Georgy Poltavchenko.

Saint Petersburg, whose stunning architecture and imperial splendor makes it by far Russia’s greatest attraction for visitors, is used to hosting major summit meetings, in particular under Putin who hails from the city.

“If we had decided to host the summit elsewhere, we would have had to spend a lot more,” said Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, estimating the total budget at two billion rubles ($60 million, 45 million euros).

The city over the last year has however achieved a degree of notoriety as one of the first Russian regions to adopt a law banning homosexual propaganda to minors that has now been adopted nationwide to considerable international concern.

The Strelna complex was begun by Peter the Great but the Russian tsar lost interest in the construction when he found the landscape at Peterhof more to his liking and better located for hosting the elaborate fountains for which it is famous.

Its first true owner was the son of Tsar Paul I, Konstantin Pavlovich who was given the palace in 1797.

The main palace where the summit meetings will take place is still called the Konstantinovsky Palace to this day. –

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