#2 - JRL 7238
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
June 25, 2003
Putin gets the tsar treatment
By Caroline Davies
President Vladimir Putin was greeted with all the pomp and pageantry Buckingham Palace could muster yesterday as he became the first Russian leader in 129 years to pay a state visit to Britain.
The former KGB secret service officer was driven ceremoniously along The Mall seated next to the Queen at the head of a glittering carriage procession. Later he was guest of honour at a state banquet in his honour - the first Russian leader to be accorded this privilege since Tsar Alexander II in 1874.
The Queen used the occasion to welcome the thawing of Anglo-Russian relations in the past decade. But she did not shy away from referring to recent differences.
With most practised diplomacy, as she proposed a toast to Mr Putin in the ballroom, she said: "It is, I believe, a sign of genuine friendship that we are able to have disagreements but remain firm partners."
For Mr Putin, 51, his historic four-day visit is intended to demonstrate the growing political and commercial partnership between the two countries. Apart from the pageantry, there were meetings with leaders of both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
Tony Blair was on the dais at Horse Guards to greet the president, alongside the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the Chiefs of the Defence, Naval, General and Air staff and Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
The president and his wife, Lyudmila, were welcomed at Heathrow by the Prince of Wales. Heavy traffic delayed their arrival at Horse Guards - albeit only by 15 minutes, compared with the nine hours experienced by Alexander II when his ship ran aground off Holland.
The Household Cavalry waited on horseback as the Foot Guards, in heavy bearskins, stood motionless in the sweltering heat.
A 21-gun salute established Mr Putin's presence near Green Park before he was greeted by the Queen, in a peppermint green dress and cream hat trimmed with purple feathers.
She conversed freely with his wife - presumably in French, their only known common tongue. They were later joined by a translator.
The band, corps and drums of the Grenadier Guards provided the musical accompaniment while the ceremonial progressed with military precision. The Queen and Mr Putin climbed into the 1902 Landau, drawn by six horses, for the trip to the Palace.
Mr Putin received a ceremonial welcome at Westminster Abbey where he laid a wreath on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. The Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, the Dean of Westminster, then read prayers followed by a moment of silence "to remember all who died in the wars of our time".
The visit marks the 450th anniversary of the formal establishment of ties between Britain and Russia, first formalised in Elizabeth I's reign.
The Queen's state visit to Moscow in 1994 officially marked the end of the Royal Family's rift with Russia after the 1917 murders of the Romanovs, as well as the political Cold War. It was a visit the Queen referred to in her banquet speech.
"When I went to your country in 1994, I recall saying to President Yeltsin that he and I had spent most of our lives believing such a visit could never happen, and that I hoped he was as delighted as I was to be proved wrong. I am just as delighted now, nine years later, to be able to welcome you here."
Delivering his speech in Russian, Mr Putin described the visit as a "momentous event".
He added: "Our countries have always been on the top of each other's foreign policy priorities system. Therefore it is especially encouraging that during the last years the relations between Russia and the United Kingdom have reached a qualitatively new stage.
"We have learned to understand each other well. We have learned to trust and work together fruitfully."
Before the banquet, there was one other piece of history to tidy up when Prince Philip formally handed back one of the most cherished mementos of the Russian Army, the Colour of the Russian Life Guards Grenadier Regiment. It was presented to the Royal Grenadier Regiment in 1856 by Emperor Alexander II.
The Queen presented Mr Putin with a special edition of the Royal Treasures catalogue and Mrs Putin with an engraved perfume bottle. The president gave the Queen a piece of Russian modern art and Prince Philip a naval ceremonial dirk.
The 171 guests at the banquet included senior members of the Royal Family, as well as the former Prime Minister John Major and his wife. Also present were Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who trained with the Russians, and Bridget Kendall, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent.