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Heavy Security Marks Russian Visit

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-08-25

You may have noticed that Japan Update did not give the Group of Eight Summit a great deal of coverage. As most of our readers were confined to their bases, things to do that weekend were somewhat restricted. Meanwhile other media devoted plenty of space to the meeting. While the politicians’ statements were endlessly chewed over, disgorged and minutely analysed, the human story somehow got lost. Security arrangements prevented all but the scantiest of briefings about the leaders’ personal arrangements. We knew where they stayed but little else. Last week we told the story of the site of the G-8 conference and Japanese Prime Minister Mori’s hosts. Now details of the stay of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage can be divulged.

Two hundred and fifty Russian security men guarded President, Vladimir Putin in the Kariyushi Beach Resort in Onna before and during the Group of Eight Summit. “They were huge, wore dark glasses and looked like the Terminator”says Megumi Tomoyose who works at the hotel. “ They were strict while attending to all the details of their work but very kind. We had a big farewell party for them and when they had gone we felt sad.”

The Russians occupied the newer wing of the hotel, Ocean Towers, while the older building housed Japanese media people covering the Summit.

Russian security measures to protect Putin were formidable. They had so much electronic equipment that it created and electronic haze that interfered with television reception in the hotel. The problem was particularly bad when Putin was out of the hotel and provoked complaints from staff members.

The hotel is surrounded by thick vegetation and tree covered hills. During the three days of the Summit some Russian security men spent all their time patrolling the wooded areas below Putin’s balcony. Some trees were cut down to make paths through the woods for them.

The corridor connecting the main atrium to Ocean Towers is lined with wicker chairs and sofas set in front of picture windows overlooking the swimming pool. There are also tall metal ashtrays at intervals along the wall. Furniture and ashtrays were removed for Putin’s visit. “It would be easy to hide bombs in them” explained Tomoyose.

Once out of the elevator to the top floor, another corridor is also exposed on one side by much plate glass. The Russians insisted that curtains be drawn over this glass in case any snipers the patrols had missed were lurking in the forest. Security was especially heavy at night.

During Putin’s stay Tomoyose dressed in traditional Ryukyu dress (an Okinawan kimono) while she operated the elevator. She says Putin was unfailingly polite and always bowed to her as he stepped out of the elevator. He always walked alone to his suite, number 5700, and nobody else was allowed in there except cleaning staff. A bodyguard stood outside his door at all times. There was a connecting door to the adjacent suite, which was used as an office.

There were some political heavyweights with Putin during the Summit, including the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ivanov. An official from the Russian Embassy in Tokyo handled protocol matters, helped the president with translations and wrote press releases, some in German. Putin, an ex-KGB agent, worked in East Germany from 1985 to 1989.

Two private cooks were also part of Putin’s entourage and the president ate Russian food prepared by them throughout his stay. The head chef at the Kariyushi Beach Resort, Naka Oji, taught the Russian chefs how to make sushi during the Summit. To commemorate the visit the hotel will offer a special buffet with foods from the various G-8 countries until the end of the summer.

Tomoyose says the advance party preparing details for Putin’s visit were very exacting. They asked for new chairs for his suite balcony and new slippers for his bedroom. The wallpaper and curtains were changed. The management on grounds of cost turned down their request that the carpet be replaced. It was thoroughly cleaned instead.

The advance party knew Putin liked saunas so the steam bath area was thoroughly checked before he arrived.

In the atrium of the main building hangs an enormous hoped chandelier. This was taken down before the Summit and ten staff, including the general manager, helped cover the hoops with the red white and blue cloth of the Russian flag. It is still hanging in the atrium.

Tomoyose says she felt rather sorry for Putin and the restrictions placed on him. He could not stroll to the beach and his only recreations during the three days of the Summit were swimming and going to the gym.

She also says she has a different view of the Russian character after the visit. Her idea of the Russians before the visit was of “people who were difficult”. But during their stay she was charmed and delighted by them.

The Russian entourage left gifts of ceramics and five different types of vodka, which will be put on display. The Kariyushi’s chef got a private gift of a watch. Asked if she was had any mementoes of the visit, Tomoyose said “Mr Putin’s smile was enough”.

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