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The Queen and Russia: From Gagarin to Putin

Having ascended the British throne back in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II has had her fair share of meetings with foreign heads of state and other prominent figures. Over the years, she also had the opportunity to become acquainted with Russia, having both received the country’s dignitaries and even once paid a state visit herself.

Those occasions did not necessarily follow strict royal protocol to a ‘T’, as RT explains. 

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FILE PHOTO. Yuri Gagarin and Queen Elizabeth II during his visit to London in July 1961. ©  The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Yuri Gagarin

The first person to travel to space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin instantly made a name for himself not only in the USSR, but also further afield. Despite tense relations between the West and Moscow at the time, Gagarin embarked on a world tour soon after his return from his mission, paying a visit to the UK along the way. There, he was received by the Queen and her husband Prince Philip on July 14, 1961. According to TASS, at one point Gagarin ate a lemon slice from his cup of tea, and the Queen took her cue from him.

Moreover, Andrew Morton’s book ‘The Queen’ claims the first man in space even put his hand on the monarch’s leg just above the knee, presumably to make sure she was real. 

Recounting their time together, Elizabeth II said of Gagarin in March 2021: “He was fascinating, and I suppose being the first one it was particularly fascinating.’’ 

FILE PHOTO. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) converses with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle at the end of Gorbachev’s official visit to Great Britain on April 7, 1989. © AFP / Andre DE WET

Mikhail Gorbachev

On April 7, 1989, Her Majesty welcomed the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Windsor Castle. He, in turn, invited the royal family to pay a visit to his country, to which the Queen responded by expressing hope she could avail herself of the opportunity at a later, “convenient” time.  

In two years’ time, the Soviet Union was dissolved and Gorbachev left office. 

FILE PHOTO. Prince Philip, Naina Yeltsina, Queen Elizabeth II, and President Boris Yeltsin on board the royal yacht Britannia for a banquet on October 20, 1994. ©  Graham Picture Library/Getty Images

Boris Yeltsin

Russia’s first post-Soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin, met the Queen twice. The first time was during a visit to London in November 1992. According to the Foreign Office translator, KA Bishop, the Russian president broke protocol on several occasions with gestures of excessive affection. 

Apart from getting a “half hug upon HRH the Duke of York,” President Yeltsin “also twice took the Queen’s arm and once even attempted to encircle her waist, but was thwarted (without offence being given) by the effortless skill of one with years of training,” Bishop recounted. 

The only visit to Russia

Two years later, on October 17, 1994, the royal couple paid their only (as per the protocol) official visit to Russia. The three-day occasion was the first time a British monarch had set foot on Russian soil. The Russian and Western press alike were quick to describe the Queen’s arrival as a historic indication of a major improvement in relations between Moscow and the West.  

President Yeltsin put on a lavish banquet, befitting the occasion. 

Particular attention was paid to which of her jewels the Queen would be wearing during her stay in Russia, as a lot of the pieces in her collection stemmed from Imperial Russia. Her Majesty’s grandmother, Queen Mary, had bought the jewels from descendants of aristocratic Russian refugees after the 1917 revolution. 

In the end, Elizabeth II opted for gems not related to the dramatic pages of Russian history. The media suggested at the time that this was done specifically to avoid causing any offence.  

FILE PHOTO. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on June 24, 2003. ©  Corbis via Getty Images

Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin, who succeeded Yeltsin in the Kremlin, also met with the Queen, on June 24, 2003 during an official visit to Great Britain.  

According to reports in the British media, the Russian leader was 14 minutes late to the meeting with the monarch. 

Speaking at a dinner at Spencer House two days later, the Russian leader praised the fact that Russia and the UK had attained a level of “mature and promising partnership.” New relations made it possible to unite the potentials of the two countries to address common problems, the Kremlin said at the time.

 

© 2022, paradox. All rights reserved.

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