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Getting our Bowie and Iggy on: Visiting Moscow, surviving Aeroflot

Having managed to visit Russia in the pre-Putin era, I can safely say I’ve had little intention of returning until the post-Putin era. 

Like many, I’m counting down the days. If the horrifying war in Ukraine has taught us anything it’s that the evil dictator will last this out, if he isn’t assassinated, or doesn’t get run over by a tram… and the rest of us are deep doings. 

Post WW2 Europe has been increasingly deluded that it is safe from war, and China’s belligerence (amply disguised in schoolmaster-ticking-off-naughty-children vernacular) is as dishonest as Putin’s. Politicians, eh?

A group of us Brits visited the former principal constituent of the Soviet Union at a curious time: that same mid June 1996 week, President Boris Yeltsin was seeking re-election to the top job as he awkwardly tried to steer the largest country in the world towards democracy of sorts, building on the work – however divisive – that Mikhail Gorbachev had started.

It sounds incredulous to think back now, but his friendly overtones to the West even resulted in his floating the idea that Russia could even become a member of NATO.

Of course, Yeltsin won, but there was that angry former KGB officer waiting in the wings to reverse all the democratic reforms and impose a new autocratic imperialism for the new millennium.

With the magnificent St Basil’s Cathedral behind us, this is the two Steves in Moscow’s Red Square on 17 June 1996, getting our Bowie and Iggy on. 

Having just endured a rickety old morning flight from St Petersburg courtesy of the never-again Aeroflot (an undignified feast for our bleary eyes: all empty seats literally collapsed on themselves as we made a far from smooth landing), we had several hours to while away until Dame David himself held a press conference in the hotel later that day. The photo is the result of our Kremlin hijinks, though there is some equally shaky video footage on YouTube, the audio of which seems to suggest I was still waiting for my balls to drop.

It’s balls the world needs to remove the despot from his corrupt, twisted throne. Let’s hope we aren’t waiting so long.


Steve Pafford

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