Russian leader tours Scotland, talks diplomacy

Thursday, June 26, 2003

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, enjoying royal hospitality on a fence-mending visit to Britain, saw the sights in Scotland's capital with Prince Andrew on Wednesday.

The warmth of Britain's welcome in the face of disagreements over the Iraq war was evident Tuesday night at a Buckingham Palace banquet.

Queen Elizabeth II, speaking as Britain's head of state, told Putin, "We know that our long-term partnership is of profound importance to both of us."

"It is, I believe, a sign of genuine friendship that we are able to have disagreements but remain firm partners," she said.

Russia strongly opposed the war in Iraq and had warned of a protracted battle that would result in heavy losses to the U.S.-British coalition.

Putin appeared just as eager to repair any damage to the relationship.

"It's clear for everyone that in spite of the differences that existed before today, we need to act jointly," he said.

In a speech in Scotland on Wednesday, Putin also stressed Russia's close relationship with the United States, saying: "The U.S. and Russia are very close allies and I hope they will continue to be close allies."

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who meets with Putin today, is under pressure from lawmakers and rights groups to speak out against human rights abuses in Chechnya. Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Russian army of war crimes, including torture, rape and "disappearances" of ordinary Chechens.

Putin has traveled to Britain before, but it was the first state visit of a Russian leader since before the Russian Revolution.

The last Russian leader to make a state visit was Czar Alexander II in 1874, who stayed with Queen Victoria when his daughter married Victoria's son. Relations deteriorated after the Bolsheviks executed Czar Nicholas II and his family, cousins of the British royals.

The relationship improved after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The queen paid a state visit to Russia in 1994, and Putin's first trip west after being elected president in 2000 was to Britain.

The police presence was heavy Wednesday as Putin and his wife began their tour of the Scottish capital at Edinburgh Castle, high above the city, where they watched a program of traditional Scottish music and dance performed by Edinburgh children.

From the castle, the Russian motorcade traveled under police motorcycle escort past curious crowds lining the road.

Some waved, and only one protest was visible -- a banner reading "What About Chechnya?" hung from an office window.

But later, as Putin's entourage entered the gates of Holyrood House for an event, a protester jumped in front of the president's car, shouting slogans decrying the war in Chechnya. Police wrestled him to the ground and took him away.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: