Medvedev Gives Thumbs Up to Deep Purple

Deep Purple and Tina Turner performed at Gazprom's 15th birthday party in the Kremlin on Monday night, watched by 6,000 people, including company chairman and presidential front-runner Dmitry Medvedev.

"This is simply surreal," Medvedev said on NTV television after the concert. "I started listening to Deep Purple when I was 13. At that time their music was banned. I never would have imagined meeting the famous group in the Kremlin Palace."

President Vladimir Putin opened the celebration, thanking Gazprom, which grew out of the Soviet Gas Ministry, for providing one-fifth of the federal budget and congratulating it on becoming Europe's largest company by market value, which he put at $350 billion.

The five-hour celebration took place after a threat by state-run Gazprom to cut supplies to Ukraine, the main transit route for its gas shipments to Europe, over an unpaid debt.

CEO Alexei Miller left talks with Ukraine's state energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy to attend the extravaganza, extending the deadline for resolving the debt issue by eight hours to 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Putin sat between Miller and Medvedev during the first part of the celebration, which featured domestic stars.

"It's a great celebration. Gazprom has come of age, and they're throwing their coming-out party as a global energy company,'' Ian MacDonald, the head of Chevron's Russian operations, said during a break.

Deep Purple came on following the second intermission, after the "Gazprom" sign over the stage had been removed. As they belted out some of their 1960s and 1970s classics, including their signature hit "Smoke on the Water," the audience, mostly made up of middle-aged managers from Gazprom's Moscow headquarters, sat impassively in suits and ties, with only the odd shake of the head to indicate they were listening.

Attempts by lead singer Ian Gillan, who sang barefoot, to encourage audience participation led to the kind of slow, steady handclap that used to reverberate around the wood-paneled hall during Communist Party congresses. It was left to a small group of students and young executives sitting at the sides of the hall to wave their hands above their heads and give the odd whistle or shout.

Turner flew to Moscow directly from Los Angeles, where she had appeared with Beyonce at the Grammy Awards the previous night. Together with two back-up singers and three dancers, Turner sang nine hits. When she asked the audience, "Is everybody all right?" her question was met with silence.

Opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky opened the party. Pop diva Alla Pugachyova, 58, took the stage later, luring First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and then Medvedev to dance in front of the stage.

Bloomberg, Reuters