An everyday story of Russian working folk - starring Tony Blair

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The Independent Online
When you think of the heroes of Russian tales, who do you bring to mind? Vronsky? Boris Godunov? Pierre, perhaps, from War and Peace, or maybe Dr Zhivago? From this week, you can add another to your list - Tony Blair, writes Stephen Castle.

The Prime Minister will get his chance for a starring role when he takes part in a Russian radio soap opera during his two-day visit to Moscow, which begins today.

Mr Blair's guest appearance on the Russian drama, which goes under the uncatchy title of Dom 7, Podyezd 4 (House 7, Entrance 4), will make him the first serving premier to take part in a soap. Although he will play himself, scriptwriters have come up with a fictional (and somewhat convoluted) tale.

While details of his contribution remain sketchy, the less-than-wholly- realistic plot is expected to involve a chance encounter between Mr Blair and Varya, a star of the long-running soap, who is an unemployed, widowed seamstress. The two meet when Mr Blair, driving in his motorcade through Moscow, notices that Varya has dropped her shopping, spilling produce on to the road. The Prime Minister orders his car to stop, helps Varya with her shopping and engages her in conversation - through his interpreter.

Soap opera - myilnaya opera - is a popular format in Russia, but the most successful products have been TV imports, including Santa Barbara and a Latin American show, The Rich also Cry.

Mr Blair's performance on Radio Russia - not the country's most populist outlet - is unlikely to command similar ratings. However, Downing Street estimates that the programme will be broadcast to 3 million people, plus an unknown audience on an additional 150 local stations.

Dialogue will be in Russian, but Mr Blair will speak English, his words translated by his real-life interpreter. His contribution will last around two minutes and the conversation will range over the difficulties of life in Russia.

Labour insists it is all in a good cause. Mr Blair's office said that the Prime Minister was invited to take part by the BBC Marshall Plan of the Mind, the British project which sponsors Dom 7, Podyezd 4. His contribution is intended to advertise Britain's support for programmes to help post- Soviet reconstruction.