From Russia with love


Sultan M Hali

THIS scribe is rendering this piece from Russia’s historical metropolis Saint Petersburg. Having been invited to attend the VI Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS), I found it opportune to combine the moot with personal sightseeing. MCIS addresses the most pressing problems of global and regional security. This year it was organized in the backdrop of the ensuing war in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan. The core issue at the plenary session was the fight against international terrorism, security issues in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, the role of the military departments in enhancing security in various regions of the world. Counter-terrorism and counter radicalism in the Middle East, security of information space, BMD implications, and security in Central Asia were in the spotlight of separate discussion sessions of the Forum.
The organizers had taken pains to not only make the participants comfortable but also ensure that the burning issues were addressed and discussed in the most professional manner. Ministers of Defence from 29 countries led their respective delegations along with senior military personnel and security analysts who conversed on the problems prevailing globally. This scribe was afforded the opportunity to express his opinion in the session on Security in Central Asia: Afghan factor. On the day of the arrival, Anatoly I Antonov, Deputy Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation hosted a Welcome cocktail for the participants while Pakistan’s Ambassador to Moscow welcomed the Pakistani delegation to a dinner.
The Conference was a roaring success. At the end of day one, General Sergey Shoygu, Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation hosted a reception for the participants. Besides serving sumptuous Russian cuisine, cultural troupes from the Russian Army, Navy and Air Force kept the guests enthralled with music and traditional dances. At the conclusion of the Symposium, the grand finale was a three and half hours boat cruise on the River Moskva. Delicacies from Russia were constantly served while different musical groups and troupes presented Russian songs, dances and music. Throughout the boat cruise, Moskva River was kept clear of other traffic to ensure the safety and security of the guests.
Having stayed on for sightseeing, visits to Kremlin, Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre occupied me for three days. Having caught short glimpses of Kremlin in various movies, I had a certain idea about Kremlin but was not prepared for the elegant grandeur that greeted me when I stepped inside. Walled Kremlin is an array of museums, cathedrals and palaces. The city has been razed by Mongols, French, Germans and other invaders but like a phoenix rising out of ashes, it has managed to regain its splendour. The Bolshevik revolution and the two world wars have left their marks but failed to subdue the elegance and magnificence of this ancient capital.
Even when Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg, Russia’s rulers continued to leave their mark on the medieval town. Peter himself built the Kremlin Arsenal, originally planned as a military museum and now occupied by a barracks and the 18th and 19thcenturies brought Neoclassical masterpieces such as the Senate Building and the Great Kremlin Palace. After the 1917 Revolution, the Kremlin regained its rightful place as the seat of the Russian government, and the legacy of the Communist era is still visible in the large red stars that adorn many of the defensive towers, and in the vast, modern State Kremlin Palace, originally the Palace of Congresses.
Lying at the very centre of the Kremlin, the Sobornaya or Cathedral Square traditionally is the junction of all the main streets of the Kremlin. The square’s name relates to the great cathedrals that stand here – Blagoveshchensky Sobor (The Cathedral of the Annunciation), Uspensky Sobor (The Cathedral of The Assumption), and Arkhangelsky Sobor (The Cathedral of The Archangel), as well as the Church of the Twelve Apostles, and The Church of the Deposition of the Robe. This was once the stage for official parades to mark the coronations of the Tsars, and also of massed religious processions on great church holidays. On the Red Steps of the Faceted Chamber the sovereigns of Russia would appear before their people, and in front of these steps foreign ambassadors were traditionally welcomed to the city. Every building apart from the modern construction has a historical value. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, Church of the Saviour on Blood, Peter and Paul Fortresses as well as the Winter Palace are some of the major attractions. The Winter Palace, which is now known as the Hermitage is one of the largest art museums of the world. It hosts art collections from international artists like Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, Heinrich von Brühl, Pierre Crozat, Horace Walpole, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Tiepolo, van Dyck, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, and Pissarro, numerous canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin and several sculptures by Rodin and Michael Angelo among others.
The collection is both enormous and diverse and is an essential stop for all those interested in art and history. The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you’d seen them all. Having visited Louvre in Paris or Versailles Palace in France or MET in New York, Hermitage was a pleasant surprise. For far too long, having been shrouded in mystery behind Iron Curtain, Russians are now keen to emerge as an affable and hospitable nation, which boasts of millennia of history and is definitely worth visiting.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Email: [email protected]