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Full Circle

Day 22: Vladivostok

Russkiy Island, Eastern Russia 
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Day off. Dancing on Russkiy Island.
Michael Palin - Full CircleA day with what remains of the Pacific Fleet. The Deputy Commander, Vice-Admiral Chirkov, invites me aboard the Admiral's launch Typhoon. It's small and travel-worn with a modest stateroom where bright orange chair-covers fight for survival with yellow curtains.

Once out in the bay the Vice-Admiral points out one of their newest warships, a 7300-ton anti-submarine vessel, bristling with radar scanners, communication masts and clusters of rocket launchers. It was built on the Baltic in 1985 and, such is the remoteness of the Pacific from European Russia, delivered to Vladivostok via the Cape of Good Hope.

Vice-Admiral Chirkov is at pains to point out that a lot has changed in the Pacific. Collective security has replaced cold war. Only recently they took part in joint exercises with the American and Chinese navies. With images of rotting and abandoned warships still in my mind from yesterday, I ask why there seem to be so few ships in this, the fleet's home port. I receive a diplomatic answer.

'The fleet is much smaller, that is true. But it is much better equipped.'

He is a likeable man who entered the Naval Academy here and became one of the youngest Soviet submarine commanders. He took nuclear submarines into the North Sea. I feel a pang of homesickness. I ask him if he has been to England.

He smiles, almost apologetically.

'No, but I have seen Scotland - through a periscope.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 22
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Russkiy Island
  • Book page no: 44

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