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Putin Receives 'Royal' Welcome in London - 2003-06-24

Russian President Vladimir Putin has received a royal welcome in London, becoming the first Russian leader to make a state visit to Britain since 1874. The mainly ceremonial four-day visit will also include talks between Mr. Putin and Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose relationship has been thawing since their split over the war in Iraq. The visit began with politics set aside, to make way for pomp and ceremony.

President Putin arrived at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II, in a gold-trimmed carriage drawn by white horses. This is the first time a Russian leader has visited Britain as a guest of the royal family in 129 years.

The visit is designed to end more than 100 years of official chill between the British and Russian states, which began with 19th century territorial disputes in Europe and deepened in the early 20th century when communist revolutionaries killed the Russian czar and his entire family. The Russian and British royal families were related.

Leaders from both countries have said the visit also represents an official acknowledgment of the economic and political ties between Britain and Russia that have grown stronger in the post-Communist era. Although President Putin's visit was planned well before the war in Iraq, the four-day trip is being called a chance to ease tensions between Britain, a key supporter of the war, and Russia, a leading opponent.

Prime Minister Blair took part in the ceremonial welcome, and will also attend a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace Tuesday night, honoring Mr. Putin.

When Mr. Putin is not visiting royalty and sightseeing in Britain and Scotland, the two leaders will squeeze in a few meetings. Analysts expect topics of conversation to include Russia's economic interests in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq and Moscow's sales of nuclear technology to Iran.

In addition, Mr. Blair has said he will raise the issue of human-rights abuses in Chechnya, but will also acknowledge Russia's right to fight Chechen terrorists.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Putin will open a one-day conference Thursday on British-Russian energy partnerships. Recent multi-billion dollar investments in Russia by giant British oil companies BP and Shell, have made Britain the leading foreign investor in Russia.