- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG — With memories still fresh of the London bombings during the Group of Eight summit in Scotland last year, authorities in Russia have imposed a lockdown on St. Petersburg with fighter jets ordered to “neutralize” any threat.

Thousands of police have been mobilized, air and sea access has been restricted, and residents have been urged to stay in their homes until the summit closes on Monday.

President Bush arrived yesterday ahead of the summit for a private dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His plane will be one of the few landing in St. Petersburg this weekend. Authorities have closed airspace over the city to commercial flights and closed waterways around the city to navigation.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told Russian news agencies that more than 20 fighter jets would be flying over the city, with orders to “neutralize any attempt to break the security regime.”

An anti-aircraft missile system also has been installed near the summit venue, the czarist-era Konstantinovsky Palace, about 30 miles outside St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland. Naval warships will be patrolling the surrounding waters.

The Russians have good reason to be concerned about security at the summit. The London bombings by Islamic extremists that killed 52 persons last year appeared timed to coincide with the start of the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Despite the killing of Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev this week, Chechen separatists, who have carried out a string of bloody attacks across Russia in recent years, remain a threat.

Officials said more than 20,000 police officers, special forces agents and soldiers have been deployed in and around St. Petersburg for the duration of the summit.

The road to Strelna, a village of 900 near the summit site, has been blocked for more than week. Residents need special permits to travel to and from their homes. Even the city’s main cemetery, located beside the road to Strelna, has been closed for four days.

Phone calls and e-mails in St. Petersburg are being monitored for words such as “Bush,” “bomb” and “Putin,” newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported this week, saying Russian law allows security services to monitor private communications in “extreme circumstances.”

Police have questioned and detained hundreds of people ahead of the summit, including many who had planned to take part in alternative events and anti-globalization protests.

A fleet of armored water-cannon vehicles has been purchased from Israel for dispersing protesters.

Many residents made plans to escape for the duration of the summit, recalling how police cordons immobilized St. Petersburg when world leaders descended on the city three years ago during its 300th anniversary.

“The police would barely let us out of our homes,” said Galina Georgiyeva, a 48-year-old bookkeeper. “This time, we’ll be going to a friend’s dacha and waiting for it all to be over.”

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