25 JUNE 2003
The Queen had an historic meeting with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday during president's trip to the UK - the first official Russian visit to Britain in 129 years. It was an occasion greeted by an impressive display of pomp and pageantry.
Upon arrival the former KGB officer was met at Heathrow Airport by Prince Charles, who accompanied him to the centre of London where he was presented to Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Queen herself then joined the president for a ceremonial procession down The Mall, before hosting a state banquet in his honour. The last Russian leader to be afforded such hospitality was Tsar Alexander II in 1874.
The visit is being taken as a sign of warming relations between Russia and the UK. And Mr Putin certainly seemed to be at ease, as he broke with royal protocol in taking Her Majesty by the arm to assist her out of a carriage at Buckingham Palace.
His hostess didn't seem at all perturbed, however, and even commented on the improvement in relations between Britain and Russia since the war in Iraq. "It is, I believe, a sign of genuine friendship that we can have disagreements but remain firm partners," she said.
Her guest reciprocated the gesture by saying a few words in English, something he almost never agrees to. Commenting on the loss of six British troops on Tuesday, he said: "I would like to express to Her Majesty the Queen and the people of the UK our sincere condolences over the loss of the British soldiers in Iraq."
A 21-gun-salute was also sounded to welcome the Russian premiere, and Prince Philip returned a cherished memento from the Russian Army - the Colour of the Russian Life Guards Grenadier Regiment - which has been in British possession for many years.