Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Set Rivalries Aside for Peter's Sake

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev was in Moscow last week to present plans for the northern capital's 300th anniversary celebrations, which will begin in less than two years' time.

While 2003 represents the best opportunity the city will have for a long time to raise its profile, attract more tourists and generally clean up its act, St. Petersburg's administration does not have a glorious record when it comes to this sort of "big event."

The furious last-minute road repairs for the 2000 World Ice Hockey Championship, for example, were the butt of many local jokes, but at least that tournament was more of a success than the organizational disaster that was the 1994 Goodwill Games.

Both those events were marred by financial problems, marketing ineptitude and a general lack of planning.

"The best way to give the money [spent on the anniversary] back to the people is by means of culture," according to State Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky. Wrong, and it was this aspect of last week's Moscow roadshow that was depressingly predictable.

As the economy of St. Petersburg's approximately 5 million people still fails to flourish, local officials never get tired of pointing to the 220-odd museums and countless palaces as proof of the city's importance to Russia, or of its past glories as the imperial capital and the base of the country's maritime power.

All of this is important — but not as a moral panacea along the lines of, "We may have a budget about the size of Moscow's debt, but at least we've got the Mariinsky Theater."

To attract tourist dollars — to attract any dollars — St. Petersburg needs major investments into its infrastructure, and a whole lot less red tape.

But will the state be giving out 40 billion rubles, as presidential representative Viktor Cherkesov has said, or the much smaller sums Yakovlev has mentioned? Will the Foreign Ministry help Yakovlev follow up on his proposal to reduce visa costs for short-term visitors from Scandinavia, or will it splutter into its coffee and perish the thought?

Will the Kremlin recognize that the benefits of a ring road will spread to the rest of the country, or will it come up with the laughably inadequate piggy-bank sums it has offered to date?

In 2003, St. Petersburg has to get it right, and Moscow must help. Rivalries have to be set aside, or we'll be waiting for the next golden opportunity in 2103.