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MOSCOW.- The cell phone vibrated after one in the morning. She was still awake, so I looked. It was a WhatsApp from Jorge Liotti, head of politics at the newspaper and an old friend. “Betta, how are you? We’ll talk about it tomorrow, but I wanted to know if you’re in a position to go to Moscow to cover Alberto’s layover there. The key day is February 3.

I immediately answered yes, without imagining that the logistics to carry out the mission would end up being an absolute stress. As to go to Russia you need a visa, a procedure that takes days and to get a journalist’s visa you have to have an invitation, the first thing I did was ask Vera, a Russian Vatican colleague from the Tass agency, for help. Advised by the consul, to whom I told my case, not having an invitation, Vera suggested getting a tourist visa. Through another contact, he got me an appointment for it, on a Tuesday at 8 in the morning. I was going to travel the following Tuesday, February 1, at night, on the only direct flight from Rome to Moscow. After filling out a form, taking a photo ID, taking out insurance, a hotel reservation, and paying, the visa would be ready the day before. All good.

Days later, the Presidency Press, upon learning that I was going to cover the bilateral meeting with Putin, began the paperwork to accredit me to enter the Kremlin. You had to send a copy of the passport, photo, letter from the newspaper, brief resume. In addition, it was necessary to have a negative pcr swab test performed on January 29 and February 1 and 2.

Everything was fine, until on Monday the 31st, when I had already withdrawn my tourist visa and was preparing to travel the next day, from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires they told me emphatically that with that visa I would not be able to enter the Kremlin and that the news, journalistic, which they had managed, had been sent to Rome. I had to cancel my tourist visa already in the passport and do the journalistic one in lightning time, whose duration was from February 2 to 5. I couldn’t leave with my direct flight planned for the first of February. Everything had to be changed, tickets, hotel, for the next day. But if he was on the 2nd on the direct flight that arrives almost at midnight, he was going to arrive in Moscow late, after Fernández. That same night I booked another non-direct flight -which took 8 hours in total-, which left on the 2nd at 6 in the morning and, after a stopover in Amsterdam, arrived in Moscow at 5, three hours before Alberto.

But when was I going to be able to do the pcr swab test that I had been required to do on day 2, if I was traveling?

At four in the morning on Wednesday the 2nd I left by taxi for Fiumicino. It was night and at the deserted airport, after doing a check-in in which they checked that I had a visa and a negative swab test carried out 48 hours before, I discovered that the laboratory in Fiumicino was open. But it was in another terminal. I had an hour to board, so I rushed over there. In a hurry, I explained to the girl who attended that I didn’t need the pcr to travel -I already had that-, but to enter the Kremlin the next day. He told me to talk to the doctor, because normally they did not send the results by mail, but they were picked up personally by the travelers. The doctor, very young and understanding, told me that they could send it to me by mail, but he warned me that he could not guarantee that it would arrive in 24 hours. I took the risk, I paid, he swabbed me and I begged him to write down on my test that it was urgent. It was fifteen minutes before boarding time, so I ran back to the gate, where I arrived exhausted. Breathless behind my chinstrap, my nerves on edge.

When I landed in Amsterdam, the greatest joy was opening my cell phone and finding the email with the test result (negative). ¡Miracle!

Something was still missing: pick up the Russian credential at the Ministry, also essential to enter the Kremlin. As soon as I landed, I decided to go directly there, rather than to the hotel. In Moscow it was already night, it was snowy and it was an odyssey to explain to the taxi driver, via Google translator, the mission. Another adventure that I was able to circumvent thanks to the instructions of Margarita, an official at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, who had sent me photos of the building on WhatsApp and explained exactly what the envelope written in Cyrillic where the credential was going to be. Another relief. Too bad that when I finally got to the hotel, I had a fierce fight with the taxi driver who wanted to charge me an absurd amount. I was even about to call the police. But seeing that the arrival time of Alberto and the entourage at his hotel, the Metropol, was approaching, and he had no time to waste, via Google translator, we reached an arrangement.

All the rest, that is, the coverage of the bilateral, was much easier.


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