Throughout her long reign, Elizabeth II has met three Soviet and Russian leaders and a number of celebrities
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.
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.’’
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, “
In two years’ time, the Soviet Union was dissolved and Gorbachev left office.
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.
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.