John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Curse of Russky Island strikes


A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs official locked in her room for 45 minutes; a posse of Kiwi journalists stuck in a lift at the International Press Centre ... it must be the Curse of Russky Island.

Now occupied by a sprawling conference centre and soon-to-be university, the island off the Russian mainland currently hosting the annual Apec economic summit has an ugly past as a military camp.

Four soldiers died there of starvation and 20 or so others were hospitalised after incompetence in Moscow meant no food rations were sent to the remote base for months.

Starvation is not a problem this weekend. A top-of-the-range serve-yourself buffet is available, featuring everything from Russian salmon to goulash.

Strangely, borscht - Russia's national dish - is off the menu. Authorities were worried visitors would take exception to one of the ingredients, beets, because they are only fed to animals in some countries.

Such are the amenities on the island that few delegates have ventured across the new cable suspension bridge to nearby Vladivostok, a city of 600,000 on Russia's far eastern seaboard.

A wander around the city centre revealed no one wearing the distinctive Apec accreditation badges. Once again, Apec has promised much but failed to deliver an economic filip.

The delegates are also the losers. The faded, but quaint, charm of Vladivostok is a relief to the eyes after the cheap, sterile, modern architecture of Russky Island.

Maybe delegates have been put off by the time it takes to travel the few kilometres to the city.

Getting off the island requires catching a series of shuttle buses which take close to an hour, including passing through security checkpoints.

Fences have been erected along the route to stop prying eyes taking too much interest in the submarines and warships which look to be permanently docked in the port.

Vladivostok's two new suspension bridges dominate the city's skyline to its detriment. Just how much traffic they will carry is a moot point after delegates start leaving today.

But, at least for this weekend, Russky Island is a bit like the old Eagles song: you check in, but can never check out.

- Herald on Sunday

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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