SPIEF DIARY: Sweltering Saudis eventually find cool spot in St. Petersburg

Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square is the main square in St. Petersburg. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 June 2019

SPIEF DIARY: Sweltering Saudis eventually find cool spot in St. Petersburg

  • St. Petersburg sprawls between the Baltic Sea and Lake Ladoga and is renowned for its numbingly cold winters, but summertime can bring the opposite extreme
  • The city is a substantial, affluent and well laid out conurbation, with broad avenues all heading to the center like the spokes of a wheel, and plenty of green spaces and public squares

ST. PETERSBURG: The priority for any visitor from the Middle East to St. Petersburg in early summer is inevitably … air conditioning.
The city that sprawls between the Baltic Sea and Lake Ladoga is renowned for its numbingly cold winters, but summertime can bring the opposite extreme. When I landed at Pulkovo Airport it was a humid 30 degrees, in brilliant sunshine, at 10 p.m. local time.
Seasoned Arabian Gulf residents are, of course, used to such extremes — the mix of sweltering heat outside, and AC-freeze inside. But I suspect — from the stifling humidity of the airport’s baggage collection hall, through to the blast of hot air that hit me as I later opened my hotel room door — that the Russians are more interested in winter heating than summer cooling.
True to form, the first identifiably Khaleeji person I met — an Emirati — had only one question for me: “Is there AC in the rooms,” he asked on the way up in the hotel lift. It turned out there was, but it was controlled centrally for each floor.
Maybe it was some throwback to the communal living of Soviet days, but a word with reception saw it notched down a couple of degrees for the night.
I chose my hotel — one of the Radisson chain — because it was close to the Expoforum site where the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is being held, as well as a mere 20-minute taxi ride from the airport. And a nice, cheery and friendly place too.
But the Park Inn in Pulkovskaya is not especially well located for the city center, which is where my first assignment of the following day took place. After a sticky night that never really seemed to get dark, I was on the road to the State Hermitage Museum bright and early.
It was a good opportunity to get a sense of this historic city, aided by Google Maps. St. Petersburg — or at least the part of it I saw that first day — is a substantial, affluent and well laid out conurbation, with broad avenues all heading to the center like the spokes of a wheel, and plenty of green spaces and public squares.
There are, however, reminders of its often painful past. A huge statue of former leader Lenin on the intersection of Moskovsky Avenue and Leninsky Prospekt is a surprise — I thought they got rid of most of those?
Another is the gigantic obelisk monument to the heroes of the harrowing siege of the city during World War II visible from my hotel window. History is clearly a living force here.
The further I got toward the center, passing substantial granite buildings, magnificent public edifices and historic places of worship, the more the question occurred to me: How on earth could the Nazis have hoped to raze this city to the ground, as was their aim, if the Soviets had not held out during the siege?
Though the name Hermitage suggests a little one-person cabin, the reality is anything but, and it is easy to get lost if your taxi driver drops you at the wrong entrance, as mine did. After a frazzling walk across the enormous Palace Square I eventually managed to hook up with the Russian hosts and Saudi guests who were holding a cultural opening ceremony in the magnificent complex of buildings.
The Russians were all scurrying around getting ready for the top-level VIPs expected at the event; the Saudis were complaining about the quality of the air conditioning in the centuries-old building. It was pretty muggy.
The AC facilities at the modern Expoforum center — another 30-minute trip back up Moskovsky past Lenin and the war monuments — were state of the art. But even so, I noticed visitors at the Saudi Aramco stand in the main congress hall take a sharp intake of breath as they entered a micro-climate that was several degrees colder than the rest of the sprawling forum center.
Perhaps somebody from the Kingdom got his AC wish at last, and had the thermostat turned down several degrees just in that spot.

  • Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

Updated 16 September 2019

Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

  • The Houthi attacks hit two Aramco sites and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the US was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to the attacks

HONG KONG: Oil prices saw a record surge Monday after attacks on two Saudi facilities slashed output in the world’s top producer by half, fueling fresh geopolitical fears as Donald Trump blamed Iran and raised the possibility of a military strike on the country.
Brent futures surged $12 in the first few minutes of business — the most in dollar terms since they were launched in 1988 and representing a jump of nearly 20 percent — while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.
Both contracts pared the gains but were both still more than 10 percent up.
The attack by Tehran-backed Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, hit two sites owned by state-run giant Aramco and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply.
Trump said Sunday the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Tehran denies the accusations but the news revived fears of a conflict in the tinderbox Middle East after a series of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year that were also blamed on Iran.
“Tensions in the Middle East are rising quickly, meaning this story will continue to reverberate this week even after the knee-jerk panic in oil markets this morning,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Trump authorized the release of US supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Aramco said more than half of the five million barrels of production lost will be restored by tomorrow.
But the strikes raise concerns about the security of supplies from the world’s biggest producer.
Oil prices had dropped last week after news that Trump had fired his anti-Iran hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, which was seen as paving the way for an easing of tensions in the region.
“One thing we can say with confidence is that if part of the reason for last week’s fall in oil and improvement in geopolitical risk sentiment was the news of John Bolton’s sacking ... and thoughts this was a precursor to some form of rapprochement between Trump and Iran, then it is no longer valid,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.