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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Marble, Moscow Veggies for Merkel

Itar-TassAngela Merkel speaking with Vladimir Putin at Volzhsky Utyos on Thursday.
VOLZHSKY UTYOS, Samara Region -- Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev used to sip tea and go for walks in the mock Russian village here. But they never saw the marble conference center.

President Vladimir Putin welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU officials late Thursday to an evening of fine dining and folk music at the Volzhsky Utyos resort, located between Tolyatti and Samara.

The hard work will be Friday, when they will hold a Russia-EU summit that has been overshadowed by loud bickering and is not expected to achieve any tangible results.

A small group of mostly German reporters were allowed into the resort Thursday to see where the leaders would meet, eat and sleep. They were closely watched by Kremlin spokespeople, who acted as tour guides. Nobody was allowed to step inside the marble conference center so as not to sully the gleaming floors.

Built from scratch for the one-day summit, the building boasts a domed roof, tall columns and a spacious balcony opening to the waters of the Kuibyshev reservoir and adjacent green hills. On Friday morning, the leaders are to kick off the summit by posing for a group photo on the balcony against the backdrop of the blue waters.

After their arrival by helicopter at the resort Thursday evening, they were to be escorted for a "very informal dinner" to a mock Russian village that stands close to the newly built building, a Kremlin spokeswoman said.

The mock village where Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and other dignitaries were to wine and dine dates back to the times when the Soviet leaders frequented the resort and features several traditional-style wooden cottages, a tea house and a banya.

Summit organizers would not disclose what was on the menu, but several cooks wearing purple uniforms sporting the double-headed eagle emblem could be seen washing vegetables and preparing food in the open air.

"They came from Moscow, both the cooks and the ingredients," Andrei Kolyadin, a spokesman for the Samara regional government, said by telephone.

The dinner was to be followed by balalaika and accordion players putting on a folk music concert.

Several two-story cottages, complete with balconies and modern amenities, are to house the EU and Russian officials. Reporters were shown Merkel's closely guarded, gated compound, which was off limits even to the Kremlin spokespeople.

"It was really beyond human ability to get ready what we have here," Kolyadin said, citing tight deadlines.

"I've been all over the world," Kolyadin added. "It makes the grade."

The resort has been given a facelift since last fall, and large swathes of grass have been planted along the paths where the dignitaries will walk.

The deadlines evidently were tough to meet. Only several designated areas of the resort have been fixed up, and unsightly soil starts where the patches of grass abruptly end.

So many people helped prepare the area for the summit that Kolyadin said he felt "the entire region was involved."

He would not say how much money the gathering will end up costing, but said two-thirds of the budget came from federal sources and one-third from local coffers. "We are talking about billions" of rubles, he said.

Officials in Tolyatti and Samara, the two cities close to the resort, have been busy too. In Tolyatti, where about 500 reporters are expected to stay, roads have been patched up and painted. Reporters will travel from Tolyatti to the resort on speedboats. Several Soviet-era buildings on the way to the Tolyatti pier have been painted in identical colors.

Regional authorities gave Tolyatti 119 million rubles to fix roads, 42 million rubles to improve street lights, and 15 million to repair buildings, said Larisa Tetelkova, spokeswoman for Tolyatti City Hall.

"It's clear that a good master has to put his house in order," she said.

Some roads were closed for the repair works, but residents have taken this and other inconveniences in stride, Tetelkova said.

"Nobody has filed an official complaint," she added.

Residents may be fuming in private. Pyotr Matorin, a rowing coach at one of the city's many sports clubs, said authorities had warned all boats to remain in dock from May 10 to 20. He said this was not a problem for his students but professional sportsmen could not practice.

Other than that, Matorin, a cheerful man with a smile full of metal teeth, said he was content. "The city is doing a good job."

Even if Friday's summit fails to deliver any results as many have predicted, locals hope the guests will be pleased.

"This place is not called Little Switzerland for nothing," Tetelkova said.

"It's surreally beautiful," Kolyadin said of Volzhsky Utyos.

Will Merkel take notice? "Ah, she doesn't pay attention to this kind of shit," a German reporter said with a wave of the hand.