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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Queen Puts Royal Seal on New Russia

It will make not a jot of difference to the economic or political course of the country. No agreements will be signed, no negotiations held. But the historical significance of this week's visit by Queen Elizabeth II, the first reigning British monarch to set foot on Russian soil, is beyond doubt.


The most important aspect of the queen's presence is that it has finally laid to rest Russia's imperial ghosts. Her arrival at the Kremlin was the final act of reconciliation between Britain and Russia after the slaughter of the tsar and his family -- relations of the British royals -- in 1918. It was also a mark of Russia's determination to break with its communist past.


The queen had been invited to Moscow by Mikhail Gorbachev, the last custodian of the communist regime. But it required his departure from the Kremlin for her to enter it. Conversely, the very fact that President Boris Yeltsin is prepared to travel all the way to St. Petersburg for dinner aboard the royal yacht Britannia testifies to the importance he attaches to the visit.


The queen's welcome here is also a sign of the Russian leadership's assurance and self-confidence. Not all European countries feel so unperturbed by the presence of royalty. King Constantine of Greece is unable to return home even as a private citizen, while Romania has refused to allow its King Michael back.


Admittedly, it might have been a very different matter if Tsar Nicholas II or one of his direct descendants were asking for a visa, but Russia has been equally relaxed about allowing 13-year-old Grand Duke Georgy Romanov, the official heir to the tsar's throne, into the country.


The fact is that no one -- apart from a few self-styled eccentrics with a childish enthusiasm for dressing up in court clothes -- would take seriously the notion of restoring the monarchy in Russia. This visit is purely an occasion for ceremony and pageantry, a symbolic acceptance by Britain that Russia has changed for good and should be fully welcomed into the international community.


And when it comes to show, the British royal family are past masters. The Rolls-Royces gliding through the streets of Moscow, Britannia tied up at the quayside on the Neva -- whatever people might feel about the monarchy, these give the visit a true sense of occasion.


It was then particularly unfortunate that when it came to what should have been a high point in the queen's stay in Moscow, her walkabout on Red Square, old habits prevailed and police blocked off the square to the public. There were probably not that many Muscovites who felt strongly about meeting the queen; all the more pity that those who did were deprived of the chance.