MOSCOW — Moscow is at a standstill. The six-lane highway that runs past the Kremlin — the heart of Russian political power — is closed off. Designer stores and luxury car salesrooms have been shuttered. The city came to a standstill just as military jets began to thunder overhead.
Russia is rehearsing for a military parade to mark 70 years since the end of World War II.
But the weekend’s events are about much more than that. Many Western leaders boycotted the parade over what they say is Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine, although the Chinese haven’t.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 747 touched down Friday morning. The message? Forget bruising Western sanctions, China is open for business with Russia. Tonight, television will air a documentary about Russian-Chinese relations, including interviews with Xi and President Vladimir Putin.
This week I interviewed Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.
While he is a clever diplomat, even Peskov cannot disguise the tensions between Moscow and Washington. He even used the word “freezing” to describe relations.
Russians “do want” to thaw that frozen state with the West, he told me. The majority of Russians support Putin, but yearn for the time when they could travel to Europe and the U.S. freely, according to a pro-Putin member of the Russian parliament.
“America should listen to us, should listen to our people. Because it’s not right in the world when there is only one voice of America,” Alena Arshinova said. “I want Russia to be heard.”
She also doesn’t want to see Russia cut off from the West.
“My generation, the young generation, want to travel all over the world, want to speak different languages,” the 30-year-old said. “We want to develop.”
As Russia and Europe reflect on the millions killed in WWII, it is impossible to miss the fact that the world has changed dramatically. Moscow feels further away from Paris and London and Washington than ever. In Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine which is being rocked by separatist violence, many people fear growing Russian power.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are offering the Russians a hand of friendship.
What happens to Russia in the coming years will influence the world’s future. It will affect international views on trade and free speech and democracy — for better or worse.