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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Airport: Back To U.S.S.R.

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This week's resignation of Sheremetyevo Airport's general director, Sergei Sutulov, has raised much speculation about the reasons for the ouster.

For us -- and for more than 10 million passengers who annually use this Soviet-era relic known as the country's main airport -- the cause behind the dismissal matters little. The paramount question is this: Will flying into Moscow ever become any more pleasant than it is now?

Nearly 10 years of reforms seem to have left few marks on Sheremetyevo-2, shopping potential notwithstanding. The terminal, built for the 1980 Olympic Games, gives every impression of being stuck in the Brezhnev era of stagnation when it was conceived.

The airport is, after all, most foreign visitors' first port of call in Russia, whether they be potential investors, tourists, government officials or students. It's a showcase for the outside world.

And what are those magical first impressions?

Dingy, poorly lit halls with a pervasive unpleasant smell and a bizarre tin-can ceiling that collects dust even more abundantly than the customs officials collect bribes. Getting stuck in sprawling lines at passport control for an hour or more with dozens of other people and no air.

Can any government official explain why, on average, only two of the 10 or so passport control booths are operational at any given time? Considering that the border guards who check passports earn a pittance, it would surely not put an excessive strain on the state's finances to employ a few more of them.

Emerging from baggage collection and customs -- with a trolley also apparently of Brezhnevite vintage, if one's lucky -- one spends the next five minutes running a gauntlet of aggressive taxi drivers, porters and assorted ne'er-do-wells.

For the uninitiated, this is followed by an encounter with the taxi mafia, which maintains an outrageously over-priced service ($50 to $100 to the city center for a ride that should cost no more than $20) by physically threatening potential competitors.

Can you blame a first-time visitor for starting to believe that life in Russia is generally dismal and criminalized to the core?

President Vladimir Putin has expressed and demonstrated some commitment to further integrating Russia with the West and making the country more attractive. There are few things that would better signal a break with the bad habits of the past than modernizing Moscow's international airport -- making it clean, efficient and customer-friendly. First impressions aren't everything, but they certainly count for a lot.