The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts will not be working too hard this week, because we have decamped to Sochi, Russia. I am here to participate in the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual confab of Russian and international experts on world politics that usually ends with an appearance by President Vladimir Putin. This year I’ve been invited to give my thoughts on what the world would look like if the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed.
I have been in Russia only for a few hours, but I’m already experiencing some amusing flashbacks to the last time I was living in the post-Soviet world (roughly two decades ago): the ridiculous pattern of queuing that breaks down very quickly; the reminder from Aeroflot that passengers can’t drink alcohol they bring on the flight; and the tradition (hardly unique to Russia) of clapping when the plane lands. The facilities from the 2014 Sochi Olympics are still on display and still pretty impressive — although they make very little economic sense.
Mostly, however, I’ve been struck by what’s changed since my last time in this part of the world. Both Russian airports were quite modern, as was Aeroflot’s fleet of planes. The hotel where the conference is taking place is way nicer than any place I remember staying in Russia 20 years ago. The food is much better.
On the other hand, I did not bring my cellphone. I have ordered a replacement laptop for when I return. These are things I don’t normally do when I go on an overseas trip. I also stumbled across this tweet:
That Foreign Affairs article may or may not contain interesting information, but I won’t know until I return to the States because I can’t access it here.
So, yes, it’s gonna be one of those kinds of weeks.