Shaun Walker: Very much not ready for take-off

Notebook from Moscow

Share

When the bus from the terminal at Domodedovo Airport winds its way across the tarmac, past various waiting planes, it's always a bit of a lottery. I hope it will come to a halt by a Western-made aircraft, and preferably not a knackered-looking specimen of 1970s vintage. I don't particularly want a Russian-made Tupolev 134 or 154, though on certain routes you know it's unavoidable. What I really don't want is a Yak.

Yaks are my least favourite Russian planes. Partly it's the incongruous farmyard name, partly it's the way you enter it using a rickety staircase through the bowels, and partly it's the fact that they just never feel very safe, because of their age and weary interiors. The regular crashes that occur in Russia might well be down to other factors – pilot error for example, as was found to be the case with a recent Tupolev crash. Nobody yet knows what caused a Yak-42 to crash near the city of Yaroslavl earlier this month, in a horrific incident that killed the entire Lokomotiv ice hockey team. Maybe the plane was fine. But given recent events, flying on a Yak was not something I fancied much.

Indeed, everyone was somewhat nervous about flying at all given the Yaroslavl incident, but this trip was different. New-money football club Anzhi Makhachkala, from the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, have signed the great Cameroonian footballer Samuel Eto'o from Inter Milan and reportedly made him the best-paid player in the world. The club, owned by local billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, wanted to take some journalists to Makhachkala to meet Eto'o, and had put on a charter flight. Kerimov would surely wheel out a fairly bling private jet to impress the world's press with his big-money signing?

We drove past several nice-looking planes, and several not-so-nice ones. And then the bus stopped. "The bastard's got eight billion dollars for God's sake," muttered one of the other journalists. "He could at least have stretched to a Boeing." We entered the Yak's bowels and took stock of the grimy, ageing cabin. Instead of a button to call the stewardess, above my head there was a metal box with "Escape Rope" written on it.

While Aeroflot and a few of the other bigger Russian airlines are pretty decent, especially on international routes, the same cannot be said for the dozens of tiny airlines plying the Russian skies. All the normal airline questions become irrelevant – the food will definitely be awful, the legroom will definitely be minimal, and the closest you'll get to in-flight entertainment is the antics of the drunk bloke who has downed half a litre of whisky in the first hour of the flight.

Three hours after boarding our chartered Yak, we finally took off, and after a miserable two-hour flight, on landing we discovered that the plane had been temporarily banned from taking off by Russian aviation authorities. The whole episode was a reflection of the farcical nature of Russian PR.

The correspondents who had flown in from Europe couldn't believe their eyes, and the poor Italian I sat next to spent the whole flight white as a sheet. Kerimov has invested more than £100m in Anzhi, but to fly the world's press in, perhaps to show that the club is not a nouveau-riche joke based in a dangerous region, he skimped on hiring a plane.







A rare chance to ask a politician a question



More agreeably, at the weekend I was in the Black Sea resort of Yalta at the annual conference run by Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine's richest men, and held at the exquisite Livadia Palace, venue for the 1945 summit between Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Pinchuk invites politicians, economists and a few journalists every year to discuss the future of Ukraine and Europe. It is a world away from similar events held in Russia, not least because of the open exchange of views and broad range of invitees. Most significantly for a Moscow-based journalist, there is a level of openness that is refreshing, where you can approach and chat with anyone present, unlike similar events in Russia where the media are usually corralled into a separate room and forced to watch on a televised link-up, to avoid politicians actually having to answer any questions.







Now Blair is taking his chance to 'do God'



One of the biggest names speaking at Yalta this year was none other than Tony Blair, who was sharing a stage with historian Niall Ferguson and the Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner, in a session devoted to a nebulous discussion about the future of the world. Milner, unsurprisingly, spoke about the growing importance of the internet, computers and social networks, and Ferguson drawled about the rise of China and how the West could come to terms with the ascendancy of "the Rest".

Blair devoted his entire speech to faith, berating those who said that conflicts such as Israel/Palestine were not about faith and religion. He said that religion was more, and not less important in today's world than it ever had been, and also called for the "restoring of religious faith to its true mission".

The speech had nothing to do with Ukraine and I suspect the former PM gives a similar one at his well-paid engagements across the globe these days, relieved that he is finally allowed to "do God" after all these years.

"For a country as secular as Britain, it's quite bizarre that your most famous living politician is touring the world giving these wild-eyed speeches imbued with religious fervour," said an American delegate sitting next to me. Quite.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to adapt and survive

Nigel Edwards
 

Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think

Jeffrey Simpson
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?