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Medvedev Takes On 'The Beast'

President Dmitry Medvedev is to arrive in London for the G20 summit on Wednesday in a specially designed ZiL limousine that one Kremlin official said dwarfs U.S. President Barack Obama's $300,000 armor-plated limousine.

The vehicle, jointly developed at a cost of $60 million by domestic automobile producers ZiL, AvtoVAZ and KamAZ, weighs 16 tons and has been designed to withstand a small nuclear attack, a Kremlin official with knowledge of the project said on condition of anonymity.

"We have built the most secure limousine in the world," the official said. "The American car is a good car if you are in a little trouble, but ours is ready for a war."

Not only is the Russian vehicle "no worse" than Obama's, "in many respects it is superior," he said.

The car looks set to overshadow "The Beast," as Obama's limousine is nicknamed. U.S. officials have boasted that it is the most secure vehicle in the world, and British newspapers have been awaiting its arrival with anticipation. "With night-vision cameras, reinforced steel plating, tear-gas cannon and oxygen tanks, the vehicle is the ultimate in heavy armored transport," the British daily Guardian wrote this week.

The newspaper may have to publish a correction after the arrival at the summit of Medvedev's limousine, which has more armor, more weapons and more curtains on the back window than The Beast, sources close to the project said, also on condition of anonymity.

The Russian car has a 12-centimeter-thick titanium plated roof that is so strong a T-72 tank can drive over it without causing any real damage, the sources said. Its windows are made of glass that will withstand a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade, while its wheels automatically turn into caterpillar tracks when going over rough terrain, they said.

Insiders have dubbed the car "Begemot," or "Hippopotamus." The 2-meter-tall cat in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel "Master and Margarita" is also named Begemot.

The limousine, which was flown to London separately in an Antonov transport plane, has all the amenities that a president could want in a car, including a shower, a desk with six phones and the curtains on the back windows -- a tribute to a feature of limousines used by Soviet nomenklatura.

Officials at the factory where Medvedev's limousine was assembled were so confident in the level of safety provided by the vehicle that they placed the designers inside the car while soldiers shot rocket-propelled grenades at it -- a tradition that dates back to the Stalin era.

The Kremlin official noted that the car's occupants could survive a small nuclear attack, but only if the wind was blowing in a certain direction. He declined to elaborate, saying reporters would be allowed to ask Medvedev questions on April 1.

This week, Obama announced that bankruptcy could be an option for General Motors, the car company that made the Beast. On Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the AvtoVAZ factory in Tolyatti to announce a more than $1 billion bailout for the company.

"Obama may prefer to bankrupt his car companies, but we prefer to invest," the Kremlin official said.

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