Nikolay is quite the fan of Putin. We hadn’t met anyone in our few weeks in Russia prepared to say more than neutral comments like “he is well supported in elections” and “he is determined”.
Nikolay, however, clearly saw him as more than just an action man figure cutting a dash riding bears on tourist t-shirts.
“This country began 18 years ago, before then it was nothing. The last President didn’t care, he was all about drinking. This President did two things when he came in. He said there was zero tolerance to crime and he said all workers must be paid so if an employer doesn’t pay they go to jail. Now we feel safer and people are paid. Money from oil has to stay in the country to use for hospitals and roads not go outside as US dollars. The mafia heads have gone to London under political asylum. So Russia is a different country to 20 years ago when people weren’t paid and there was no food or they might be paid in bags of grain and then have to sell them at the market. My wife’s family kept chickens on their balcony and it was lucky people had summer homes to grow vegetables, at least potatoes.
Drinking is a problem for the marginalised Russian and they don’t turn up to work. So construction and street cleaning and park maintenance are done by migrants from the Stans. Putin said they must have housing and be paid on time. If they cause any trouble they get a ticket home and it’s ‘thank you, good bye’. They are well integrated, spread throughout the city, we have no ghettos.”
Nikolay has moved his family back to St Petersburg from South Africa where he’d worked as an interpreter for mining companies.
“You can make big money in Africa but life isn’t all about money. Here pickpocketing is a problem but the pickpockets will take your wallet quietly and politely and you won’t even know. In South Africa, they will shoot you first.”
Nikolay waved a hand at the morning rain. “We call this ‘American weapons’. Everyone says it’s the Russians when something bad happens and we say it’s the Americans when we have a problem.”
He said the villages we passed on the train were falling apart. “There’s no one looking after them. The old people are dying and the young people don’t want to live there but you’ll see there’s no homeless in the city. If people want a home they can just get one in a village and no one will bother them.”
“Though,” he paused,”electricity may be an issue.”