Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#12 - JRL 7241
The Scotsman
June 26, 2003
From Russia with praise - a VIP tourist

THE Russian president, Vladimir Putin, became the most powerful world leader to visit Scotland since devolution yesterday when he toured the sights of Edinburgh and gave a speech praising the links between the two countries.

Mr Putin was making the first Russian state visit to Britain since Tsar Nicholas II in 1874, although he himself came to Scotland in 1991 as part of a trade delegation.

Despite his friendly overtures, there was a momentary security alert when a protester threw himself in front of the presidents car.

The incident happened as Mr Putins entourage passed through the gates of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, when a 24-year-old man, shouting slogans attacking the war in Chechnya, was wrestled to the ground by police officers and taken away for questioning.

At the weekend, MSPs had called on Jack McConnell, the First Minister, to raise the issue of alleged war crimes in Chechnya with the president when the two met. However, Mr McConnell maintains that the devolved parliament does not hold sway over such inter-national affairs.

Despite arriving in a cavalcade of eight cars and numerous Kremlin minders, Mr Putin began his one-day visit to Scotland like any other tourist - taking in the views of Edinburgh from the castle battlements.

Under blue skies and Scottish sunshine, the president and his wife, Lyudmila, accompanied by the Duke of York, were greeted by Mr McConnell and Major General Nick Parker, the new governor of Edinburgh Castle.

Three pipers played Scotland The Brave as Mr and Mrs Putin were shown a silver replica of Edinburgh Castle before taking in the views across the city atop the real thing.

Graeme Munro, the chief executive of Historic Scotland, was also on hand to point out features of the skyline visible from the Forewall Battery, located in front of St Marys Chapel, the oldest part of the castle.

The First Minister joked with Mr Putin that he should set his watch to the One Oclock Gun but, fortunately, they had 17 minutes before being deafened by its daily blast.

It was also pointed out to the Mr Putin that the distinctive grid pattern of the New Town was designed by some of the same architects who built his home town of St Petersburg.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Putin took particular interest in the long history and layout of the castle walls before posing for photographs in front of the large cannon, Mons Meg.

The party then headed into the castles 16th century Great Hall, built by James IV and lined with a collection of axes, swords and suits of armour. Here, they saw a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II, executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918, which is housed at the National War Museum. Tsar Nicholas married one of Queen Victorias granddaughters and was subsequently made Colonel in Chief of the Royal Scots Greys by Victoria in 1895.

The party then looked on as schoolchildren from Edinburgh performed traditional Scottish dances and songs on instruments that included the clarsach.

Mr Putin and his wife posed for photographers before waving the children goodbye and heading off for their next engagement, at the citys Signet Library.

Moments before Mr Putins arrival, Mr McConnell spoke warmly of his visitor. "Im delighted hes chosen to visit Scotland," he said. "Its great news for Edinburgh and Scotland, and I am sure he will enjoy the city, especially in such warm weather."

One group who might not have echoed Mr McConnells sentiments were the assembled photographers, who were initially prevented from following the visitors by a tetchy member of the Kremlin guard. The diplomatic impasse was resolved with the help of a bilingual Russian cameraman.

While Mr Putin addressed the Duke of York and the First Minister at the Signet Library, Mrs Putin, who was wearing an orange suit with matching fluffy collar, paid a visit to the National Museum of Scotland to look at the Early People and Kingdom of the Scots galleries.

Mr Putin, his wife and the Duke of York then dined on a platter of mixed Scottish salmon and fillets of Scottish lamb, followed by coffee and shortbread, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

After lunch, they walked to the Queens Gallery, where they viewed an exhibition of works by the jeweller Faberg, including the famous eggs given to the British Royal Family by their Russian counterparts in the 19th century.

The couple then returned to London, where they are staying as the personal guests of the Queen for their four-day visit.

Despite the lack of an official walkabout, the streets of Edinburgh were lined with tourists and locals hoping to catch a glimpse of the most senior statesman to visit the capital since Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa.

But among the odd Russian flag lining the Royal Mile was still a lone placard of protest bearing the slogan: "What about Chechnya?"

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