Another story from Russia – another flood of memories.
Note: GAI, the Moscow version of CHiPs, is pronounced “guy-EE”
As one of the many rare joys afforded by supporting Vice President Gore’s visit to Moscow for the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission meetings (hereafter referred to as “GCC”), I was provided the opportunity to ride in a gen-yoo-wine Russian cop car, and I didn’t even have to get arrested to do it. In fact, the officer driving the car treated me as a peer, which granted me some other privileges, which I’ll get to later. The Embassy had been hiring the GAI to escort high-level US Government dignitaries for years now. As it happens, the GAI was laid on to escort the arrival of The Honorable Dr. John Hamre, Deputy Secretary of Defense of our great US of A.
Now, as standard operating procedure, when escorting high-level visitors, the GAI (and other Russian security forces who shall remain nameless) prefer to drive at approximately 100 miles per hour, whenever possible. Any traffic going the same way as the motorcade at any speed less than 100 mph is expected to vacate the road. Any drivers who fail to do so may be forcibly run off the road. It’s not as if they don’t get any prior notice, however; 10 seconds before the GAI car is going to hit said traffic violator, the GAI officer will turn on his loudspeaker and start spewing obscenities about the heritage of the driver, his mother, or maybe the driver’s lack of a mother. Should the unfortunate driver miss these announcements, the GAI will drive up alongside the errant vehicle and the shotgun officer will roll down his window, grab his nightstick, and start beating the vehicle off the road. Should THIS effort fail, the GAI driver will zip up in front of the traffic violator in such a manner as to cause the violator off the road in a most undignified manner, after which a second GAI car from the motorcade will pull over near the violator, check his papers, and promptly fine him (and probably take a bribe while he’s at it).
Want to know why I know so much detail? I was the shotgun officer. I held the stick. And let me tell you, when that GAI officer told me to roll down my window and start beating that red Lada, you BET I was ready to do it. Unfortunately, that driver saw the stick coming into striking range and dove off onto the shoulder of the road. In addition to the above-mentioned fun, I had the joy of playing chicken with oncoming Russian traffic if the drivers were not quick enough in heading my GAI partners commands. I think that no roller coaster or jet fighter could have produced the same blood curdling terror that my partners Sergei and Alex gave me on the trip from Vnukovo 1 and around Moscow. While no beating of unsuspecting vehicles was done by me on either occasion that I enjoyed with the GAI, I did get a healthy respect for the driving skills of the GAI and the technology that the GAI now employs. The GAI officer simple has to dial in the code of the light that he wants changed (mine two had the numbers down cold) and VOILA, the light changes. If the light was manually controlled (they still have those here) the GAI would call the tower GAI and ask for him to time the light for the smoothest transition through the intersection. I also learned that every site in Moscow has a code. It was enough for our GAI to say he was departing 112 (the Kremlin) enroute to 231 (Spaso House, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence) and every GAIichnik would be ready to put up his little black and white stick (known as a Zhezel in Russian, or magic wand) to stop traffic for us from point A to point B. We zipped through most areas with very little traffic worries, except where noted above.
As an added bonus to Dr. Hamre’s trip, I finally drove in the Kremlin. This was something I have wanted to do for a long time. I accompanied Dr. Hamre on his visit to Andrei Kokoshin, Secretary of the Defense Council (the equivalent to our National Security Adviser). Mr. Kokoshin’s offices are located within the Kremlin walls in building 14 (next to Spaskiy Tower), entrance 2, second floor. We entered the Kremlin through the Borovitskiy Gate located near the Armory and exited there also. I understand that most delegations exit directly onto Red Square through the Spaskiy Gate and around St. Basil’s Cathedral; maybe next time. While I did not set in on the meeting (not invited you know) I did get to see the inside of building 14 and wait around with the two protective service agents while the meeting was going on. Building 14 for those that know the Kremlin, is the mustard colored building directly across the square from the King of Bells.
The added work that these trips brought was (almost) always rewarded by some “interesting” experience that I will keep with me forever.