One of the most conspicuous absences from this year’s parade on Red Square was Germany’s Angela Merkel who in past years had become an honoured guest and a symbol of the postwar healing between Russia and Germany.
Chancellor Merkel and Mr. Putin are long time friends, dating back to the days of service in East Germany. He speaks excellent German and she is fluent in Russian and over the years they’ve cultivated a relationship that is more relaxed than with most other world leaders. They communicate frequently and earlier in the week she called Mr. Putin to thank him for the release of several OSCE observers who had been held in Eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian authorities.
The reviewing stand on Red Square was laid out differently this year, partly to hide the fact that fewer world dignitaries would be in attendance. As for the parade however, this was both bigger and longer than in more recent years as perhaps a statement. Today’s event included 11,000 soldiers, 50 military vehicles and 70 combat aircraft were featured in the parade. The normal 45 minute event from start to finish took right at an hour this year.
The city of Moscow spend the past months preparing for an influx of visitors, mostly from other parts of Russia. Moscow’s committee on Tourism and Hotels had earlier forecast that between 270,000-280,000 tourists were expected to come in May but later revised the number to around 150,000 with about half of those staying with Moscow-based relatives instead of hotels. As you know, staying with family and friends is a strong tradition and for foreign visitors Moscow still suffers from a shortage of quality mid-level and moderately priced hotels.
We’ve long argued with anyone who will listen that building new hostels will not attract Western tourists except for young singles but there seems to be a fixation on matching Europe with comparable hostel facilities. Hostels are great for young and unattached backpack travelers but business travelers and couples/families with disposable incomes aren’t ready to share sleeping space with strangers no matter how neatly the bunkbeds are stacked.