It has been quite an experience.
At the rehearsal the day before the interactive webcast with President Putin there were about 50 Russian officials in the hastily-made (but state of the art) studio, all giving their view on who should sit where. That was probably what you would expect inside the Kremlin.
What has been different is the apparent keenness to take on questions from around the world. There have been no no-go areas. No asking to see any script or enquiries (gently or not so gently) asking what we were going to pick as our main questions. The main issues of contention was should Bridget Kendall (our presenter) sit next to the President. In the end she did.
Arriving at the Kremlin today though, our initial entry was delayed as we weren’t all in one group as the form suggested we would be, and any bags we were carrying had to be decanted and anything you needed taken in by hand. A bit tricky when you are carrying technical equipment. Still it gave the whole proceeding an edge.
The President arrived exactly one minute late and didn’t stop for the next two hours and fifteen minutes (watch it here) - an extra half hour suddenly found in his diary. It was a marathon performance by any standards - every one of our 12 questions on a vast range of topics from North Korea, relations with George Bush to the problems with getting visas to travel to Russia, was asked.
The one topic which has been preoccupying the Russian press - about why he kissed a young boy on the tummy during a visit to Red Square - also got put. He picked a couple of questions himself; poverty, pension and the military were his choices. We even got the impression the President enjoyed answering them all.