Today is Russia Day, which marks the official beginning of the Russian Federation, or, to give it its formal definition, the declaration of state sovereignty by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
With just two days to go until the World Cup kick-off, it feels like half the world is with me here in St. Petersburg, ready to play. Half a million visitors will be welcomed and the Kremlin has gone all out to showcase Vladimir Putin’s new Russia as a vibrant, safe and strong nation.
Thanks to a two-year renovation program across the major cities, St. Petersburg is immaculate. The buildings are pristine, the facades freshly painted. It looks truly splendid – and a stark contrast to its beleaguered European counterparts in Italy, Greece and Spain.
When you talk to the people here, they say they feel Russian, really Russian; 85 per cent identify as Russian first, no matter where they are from. Almost 90 per cent worship in the Orthodox cathedrals or Christian churches.
They share a clear understanding of who they are and what they believe in. And you can feel it.
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