Russia's Putin to take to the air for Kremlin commute

Reuters News
Posted: May 16, 2013 11:12 AM
Russia's Putin to take to the air for Kremlin commute

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin will soon fly to work by helicopter rather than being driven there in his usual Mercedes limousine to try to appease anger over traffic jams created by his motorcade.

A helicopter pad has been built in the Kremlin "and the president will use it at the first opportunity," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin spends most summers at a government residence.

Russia's post-Soviet shift to capitalism and the oil-fuelled boom of Putin's initial 2000-2008 presidency have clogged Moscow's once uncrowded streets with cars, making for traffic jams that rival overburdened cities worldwide.

The problem worsens when main arteries in the capital are closed off to let motorcades pass, a frequent occurrence as some officials and other influential figures have permission to use blue lights on their vehicles, giving them traffic privileges.

This has sparked resentment among ordinary Muscovites and led to the creation of the "Blue Buckets" protest group, whose members place blue buckets on their car roofs in a mocking reference to the motorcades.

Putin, who started a six-year term last May after weathering the biggest opposition protests of his time in power, apologized last year after saying he heard motorists honking their horns in unison at his motorcade.

Since then he has spent more days at his residence outside Moscow to avoid creating the traffic jams. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev began commuting to the government headquarters by helicopter a few months ago for the same reason.

Putin and his late predecessor Boris Yeltsin had occasionally traveled to the Kremlin by helicopter, landing in a central square near the main office in the former fortress and its centuries-old onion-domed cathedrals, Peskov said.

The new helicopter pad is in a more obscure area closer to the Kremlin's red brick exterior walls and chosen "to rule out harmful effects on the architectural monuments", Peskov said.

Putin, who often talks of the need for patriotism and national pride to unite Russians, will use a Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter, said Peskov, who did not specify how often the president would commute by air.

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Raissa Kasolowsky)