Tight security makes it unlikely most Shanghai citizens will see Vladimir Putin during his brief visit here this week. But it's easy to glimpse Russia through the city's architecture and statues, perhaps rivaled only by the borscht at Café Putin.
Mr. Putin arrived Tuesday in Shanghai to attend an Asian security forum and ahead of a state visit to Beijing later in the week. For several days off the Shanghai coast, Russian and Chinese military vessels plan military drills. The president has visited Shanghai before, including in 2006 and twice in 2001.
Russia's ties into Shanghai predate the pursuit of communism that defined the sometimes uneasy Sino-Soviet relationship through the second half of the last century. Shanghai's government estimated the local Russian population at 1,150 a few years ago, less than 1% of the foreigners in town. Yet, at the height in 1937, more than 30,000 Russians lived in the city, the biggest group of non-Chinese.
The population bulge followed turmoil back home and represented how Shanghai served as a sanctuary for Europeans fleeing political and religious repression. This group included a sizable community of Russian Jews who named the now-restored Ohel Moshe Synagogue for a leading member of their community. Others were artists and musicians, and more than a few staked out criminal acitivity.
'Undeniably, Shanghai takes a special place in the Russian imagination,' says Albert Krisskoy, vice chairman of the Shanghai Russian Club.
'I wouldn't say it's a glorious history but it's a history of survival,' said Mr. Krisskoy, noting that many Russians arrived in Shanghai penniless and stateless. Even today, Mr. Krisskoy said, while being shanghaied in English means getting kidnapped onto a ship, the city's name to Russians refers to run-down sections of a town.
At the heart of the French Concession stands the St. Nicholas Church, one of two 1930s-era Orthodox Russian places of worship that by the late 1990s ingloriously housed nightclubs until officials pulled the plug about a decade ago. Also in the French district and evoking a more Kremlinesque design is a former Russian Orthodox Cathedral. A year ago, the head of Russian Orthodoxy celebrated a liturgy under its black onion domes.
Russian Orthodoxy isn't one of China's five sanctioned religions, which may explain why a shrine that stretches heavenward -- while no longer a disco called The Dome -- today lacks much spiritual vibe or even the kind of heritage plaque affixed to many noteworthy old buildings in town.
The cathedral sometimes opens its doors to art exhibits, including a recent show of sentimental young Chinese painters and sculptors who produced items recalling childhood bliss, somewhat less controversial for the Russian community than its use as a so-called den of sin.
'It would be great if President Putin could visit the churches, one or both,' said Mr. Krisskoy. He said the Russian president has previously pushed for wider acceptance by Chinese authorities of the religion, and now Easter and Christmas services are sometimes held in the St. Nicholas Church.
And while the discos have closed, hipsters still gather around another reminder of Russia in the French Concession: the Pushkin Monument. Benches that encircle the poet's elegant bust high atop a pedestal are popular among patrons of midnight fried noodles sold on the bar street.
'We talk about the Russians a great deal because there were three times the number of Russians in the French Concession as French,' says historian Daniel Newman, who runs Newman Tours. The history includes low class and high, he says: British ballerina Margot Fonteyn lived as a child in Shanghai, where she received early training from a Russian. But the community's seedy side more than anything else prompted Hollywood producers to add 'Shanghai' to movie names -- 'that was like putting the word sex in the title,' he said.
Shanghai also has been blessed with some imposing Russian architecture.
The Sino-Soviet Friendship Building was a 1954 gift from Moscow, and a rare major construction between the sunset of Shanghai's colonial era in 1949 and its rapid steps toward the market three decades later. (Russia gave Beijing one too.) Until recently, the Shanghai branch of China's Communist Party convened its congress under the neo-baroque hall's red star and most weeks its green marbled floors feature a boat show or real-estate exhibit.
In addition to tenements near the cathedral, much of Shanghai's Russian community lived near the city's riverfront Bund. The country's red-roof consulate at the confluence of the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek dates to 1896.
The turn-of-the-century Russo-Chinese Bank building along the Bund is one of the strip's grandest historical markers. For a time it served as the local headquarters of China's central bank and was where some of the first international dealings in yuan took place.
For a taste of today's Russia, it's hard to beat the 28 yuan ($4.50) bowl of borsch served at Café Putin.
Not far from Shanghai's main railway station, the refined little restaurant features domed lights hanging from the ceiling and deep-hued Russian paintings on the walls. Shelves are crammed with Russian and Chinese books with titles like 'Putin Time' and 'Russia and China: Joined in Revolution,' something to browse while sipping purplish pomegranate juice whipped thick and served in a wine flute.
The Russian owner couldn't be reached, and an otherwise smiley blonde woman holding her blue-eyed baby and counting the money on a recent day declined to answer questions. Free Wi-Fi appeared to be a bigger draw for the café's few patrons than the rich borscht stew of onions, cucumber, celery and potatoes in a thick red beef broth.
A Chinese-language brochure about the café says it was inspired by President Putin's daughter Mariya, in particular her promotion of cross-cultural communications and respect for the Chinese monks of Shaolin Temple. (Rumors swirl that she studied Chinese.)
'In Café Putin you can taste high-quality and natural Russian cuisine, and experience the most authentic and exclusive Russian civility,' it says.
俄罗斯总统普京(Vladimir Putin)本周对上海进行短暂访问，戒备森严的安保措施可能令多数上海市民无法一睹俄罗斯总统的风采。但从上海的建筑和雕塑中很容易感觉到俄罗斯的气息，可能只有普京咖啡馆(Cafe Putin)的罗宋汤才能与之媲美。
上海的俄罗斯人数量激增后紧接着出现的是当时苏联国内的动荡，上海在这一时期成为躲避政治和宗教迫害的欧洲人的避难地。这一团体包括一个规模较大的俄罗斯犹太人社区，这些人将现已修复的摩西会堂(Ohel Moshe Synagogue)作为社区的重要一份子。其他人包括艺术家和音乐家，其中不少人监视犯罪活动。
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images上海一座俄罗斯东正教教堂。一年前，俄罗斯东正教大牧首曾在这座教堂的黑色圆形拱顶下举行礼拜。
克里斯科说，如果普京能来参观这两座或其中的一座教堂，那就太好了。他说，普京过去曾呼吁中国政府更大程度地接受东正教，现在 尼古拉斯教堂有时会举行复活节和 诞节的礼拜。
经营着纽曼旅游(Newman Tours)的历史学家纽曼(Daniel Newman)说，我们经常谈到俄罗斯人是因为法租界内俄罗斯人数量是法国人的三倍。他说，这段历史包括底层也包括上层俄罗斯人，英国芭蕾舞演员芳登(Margot Fonteyn)的童年是在上海度过的，她在上海从一位俄罗斯人那里接受了早期芭蕾舞训练。纽曼说，但这个城市阴暗的一面而不是其他的特点促使好莱坞制片人将“上海”加入电影的名字，这就如同在电影名称中加上性这个词。
成立于上世纪初的华俄道胜银行大楼(Russo-Chinese Bank building, 简称：华胜大楼)位于上海外滩，是外滩最优秀的历史建筑之一。中国央行曾将这栋大楼作为其地方总部办公楼。最初的人民币国际交易部分是在华胜大楼进行的。
James T. Areddy for The Wall Street Journal距上海火车站不远的普京咖啡。