By Albert Oetgen, Managing editor, NBC News, Washington
Moscow – It's a very gray day in this very gray city.
A planeload of reporters arrived here this afternoon in advance of President Obama's first trip to Russia as Chief Executive, full of anticipation and American preconceptions about this vast and complicated land.
As the 767 banked on its final approach to Vnukovo Airport, acres and acres of dull concrete high-rise apartment buildings loomed in the distance, echoes of Soviet-era regimentation and Cold War discipline, reminders that the blinding speed of change in the 21st Century – of any century – can never erase the indelible effects of history and experience.
Inside the terminal, reporters were hustled through customs. Efficient uniformed clerks rarely made eye contact, conjuring the persistent, lingering feelings of mistrust that aging baby boomers learned during the early days of the Cold War when, as impressionable schoolchildren, they were taught the absurd lesson that crouching under classroom desks could somehow protect them from nuclear fallout.
The walk from customs to the buses (to take the press corps to a downtown hotel) involved a series of 90-degree turns monitored by escorts. The route snaked through a small crowd of Muscovites waiting for family and friends to make their way out of the maze of corridors leading to the airport gates. One of turns made no sense. There was a clear diagonal shortcut through the crowd, but when two reporters tried to take it, armed police instantly materialized, herding them back onto the pre-assigned route with the brutal efficiency and mind-numbing lack of imagination that over-empowered Transportation Safety Administration police display every day In American airports.
Imperialist powers, it turns out, have much in common, regardless of the current state of their affairs or the mercurial patterns of history. The grayness of Moscow and its uniformed police tracks perfectly with the Washington summer to date.