Putin no pussycat prospect at Apec summit

VERNON SMALL IN VLADIVOSTOK
Last updated 05:00 08/09/2012

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There was a pussy - a cute tabby outside the "hotel" room - but no riot on day one of the Apec leaders' summit in Vladivostok.

The tight security on Russky Island - the venue for the three-day talkfest - is strict enough to ensure no-one steps out of line, although at times it can be quirky.

The New Zealand media contingent was first scanned through metal detectors ahead of Prime Minister John Key's first appointment - a chief executives' summit - before being ushered outside to wander across to a neighbouring building where the event was being held.

Before his press conference with Kiwi reporters after the CEO meeting, Mr Key had to be ferried back to his accommodation so he could sweep all the way back in a motorcade of black Mercedes.

Russky [Russian] Island itself is a testament to the $25 billion spent flossing up the venue and the surrounding city. At the end of a 62km motorway from the airport stands the longest cable bridge in the world, sporting supports as tall as the Eiffel Tower. It spans the Eastern Bosphorus straits separating the mainland from the island.

The venue buildings are brand new and destined to be a top flight university campus when the delegates leave. But the price - $400 a night for media, $1000 for business leaders - and the spartan beds lose in comfort what the rooms make up for with top-of-the-range wi-fi.

The media centre is a brutal glass-fronted unit in the midst of the complex - a sort of Owen Glenn Auckland business school building x 10. Mr Key yesterday described the infrastructure as "super-impressive", but one of the translators was less flattering, saying we would find it easily.

"It stands out for all the wrong reasons."

The fireworks - $10m worth of them - will go off later, but for Mr Key the sparks will fly tonight when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time.

Mr Key yesterday tried to cajole Mr Putin into "showing leadership" and setting aside concerns about New Zealand agricultural products to approve a stalled free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries. Barriers to agricultural imports could be lowered over time, allowing Russian producers time to adjust, he said.

But Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov expressed his reservations in person to Mr Key, especially about the impact of dairy imports.

Trade Negotiation Minister Tim Groser is set to stay on in Russia for two extra days, but the best the New Zealand delegation may get is a firm timetable for a deal; one way or the other.

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There is no doubt Mr Putin will be hard to bend. He has already secured entry to the World Trade Organisation, one of the main reasons a trophy deal with New Zealand was first contemplated.

And he has made a reputation for himself as a tough guy; diving for treasure, riding horses, martial arts and - yes - wrestling Siberian Tigers long before the Pussy Riot punk group or the Kiwi negotiators padded into view.

- The Dominion Post

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