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Russia's Putin retraces historic links with Scotland
June 25, 2003

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed Russia's European identity as he visited the Scottish capital Edinburgh on day two of his state visit to Britain.

Putin and his wife Lyudmila, accompanied by Prince Andrew, the second son of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, visited major sights and attended a formal lunch at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the queen's official residence in Scotland.

In a speech to leading politicians, and figures in the business, arts and other sectors, the Russian president said that Russia and Scotland had historic ties and urged Scottish businesses to invest in his country.

"Russia is a part of European culture. European culture would be incomplete without Russia. Russia is a part of Europe," Putin said Wednesday.

The Russian leader, who was making his second trip to Scotland after visiting the country about eight years ago, emphasised similarities between the Scottish and Russians.

"I have warm memories of the direct, straightforward and open culture of Scots. There is a great similarity here with my people, the Russians.

"Today, Russia has huge opportunities for your business," he told his audience, adding that Russia had a good investment climate after tax and other reforms.

Thanks to major energy projects, Britain now ranks first on Russia's foreign investment league table.

The Russian presidential couple began their trip by touring Edinburgh Castle, from where a stunning panoramic view of the city can be seen.

Three bagpipers played for them and Edinburgh schoolchildren performed traditional Scottish dances and songs on instruments including the clarsach, or Scottish harp.

They then headed out of the bright sunshine into the castle's 16th century Great Hall, where they saw a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II, the queen's distant cousin who was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Officials in London said that Putin had requested the visit to Edinburgh because of the historic ties between the Scottish capital and his home city of Saint Petersburg.

Scottish architects worked in Russia in the 18th century, including Charles Cameron, who moved to Russia in 1779 at the invitation of Catherine the Great, and was the architect at the Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk palaces outside Saint Petersburg.

For the British, the visit is a chance to showcase devolution, whereby Scotland's own parliament looks after social policy, education, rural affairs and judicial matters.

Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell said he was "delighted" that Putin had decided to visit Scotland.

"His visit clearly demonstrates that the post devolution profile of Scotland has dramatically increased. This is something that we must build on. I believe that Scotland is rediscovering its international identity," he said.

The brutal Russian war in separatist Chechnya cast a slight shadow over the event as a protester threw himself in front of Putin's car and was arrested by police.

Last weekend, Scottish lawmakers called on McConnell to raise the issue of alleged human rights abuses against Chechen civilians with Putin.

In the evening, Putin was to return to London for a dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor of London in the Guildhall.

Putin, the first Russian leader to make a state visit to Britain since Alexander II in 1874, and his wife are staying four days at Buckingham Palace as guests of the queen in a calculated show of Anglo-Russian friendship.

Britain and Russia are hoping the highly ceremonial visit will put relations back on a solid footing after the dispute over Iraq and despite continuing tensions over Moscow's nuclear ties with Iran and the Chechen war.

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