Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally decided to do something to help relieve Moscow's paralytic, bumper-to-bumper, round-the-clock, city-wide traffic congestion: He's going to drive less and work from home more often.
And that will, in fact, be a really big help, experts say.
"The president is minimizing his meetings in the Kremlin and is preferring to hold them in [his official residence] Novo Ogaryovo to avoid disturbing Muscovites," Mr. Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov told the independent Interfax news agency Wednesday.
"There is no substantive difference. If the meeting does not require any kind of ceremony, it is held in the suburban residence. He really has cut the use of motorcades to the minimum in Moscow," he added.
Helicopter rides to work
Despite the millions of smoke-churning cars that clog Moscow's main roads, seemingly around the clock, the single biggest problem experts point to is the privilege accorded to the country's two top leaders and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch to have all traffic shut down between their home and workplace every single day.
"It will make a really huge difference if they cut down on their use of the roads," says Vyacheslav Lysakov, chairman of the Free Choice drivers' association, which has been fighting against official privileges on the roads since 2006.
"Every time one of our leaders goes somewhere, the police block traffic on three major roads for up to an hour and a half. It leaves an extremely negative impression on the public, and it's high time it was fixed," he adds.
In Putin's case, the entire 15-mile route between his sprawling countryside estate of Novo Ogaryovo – a huge parkland containing several palatial buildings on the banks of the Moscow River – and the Kremlin is completely shut down whenever the president goes to or from work. Once the roads have been closed and traffic sidelined under the watchful gaze of police, one or two decoy cars speed the full length of the route to check for problems, and only then does Putin's 12-car armored motorcade race through at speeds of up to 150 m.p.h..
Though Novo Ogaryovo is officially designated as a "presidential residence" Putin did not vacate it during the four years he was prime minister and Mr. Medvedev was president. Therefore a new residence was constructed for Medvedev, a few miles down the same forested, suburban Moscow road, the Uspenskoye Highway.
Their apparent joint decision to forgo automobiles may have been triggered by an incident last weekend when hundreds of angry drivers in St. Petersburg directed a barrage of horn-honking as well as what observers described as "rude gestures" at a Medvedev motorcade during a visit to the city.
"Medvedev may be trying to look like a more modern kind of guy, who's heard the peoples' voice, but I'm not so sure about Putin," says Andrei Kolesnikov, opinion editor of the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta.
"I think he just prefers to stay home and have people come to him. He's actually quite lazy, and getting more like that lately," he adds.
Blue light specials
Russian drivers have been sporadically protesting against the official privileges enjoyed by officials for years, and leaders have been promising to do something about it for almost as long.
In addition to closing down whole stretches of road when top leaders travel, there are hundreds of Russian bureaucrats who enjoy a "migalka," or blue flashing light on their official cars, which entitles them to drive like emergency vehicles, such as ambulances or fire trucks, and legally ignore most rules of the road.
"Back in 2010, we counted the number of cars with migalkas, and there were 2,000 of them," says Sergei Kanayev, president of the Russian Federation of Automobile Owners.
"This year the number has been reduced. In Moscow alone, it's fallen from 865 to 568, and we notice the drivers have begun to behave more decently. So, we do see progress. And the leaders' decision to reduce their use of motorcades can only help.... We can only wish they would fly everywhere, all the time, and completely stop creating problems for the rest of us," he adds.