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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Queen's Visit: Lifting the Clouds of the Past

When Queen Elizabeth II touches down in Russia on Monday afternoon she will be moving a few crucial yards further than her great-uncle did 86 years ago.


In 1908, in the waning years of the great European dynasties, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra dined with the Russian imperial family on their yacht off Tallinn, Estonia which was then inside the Russian Empire.


But unlike the current queen they did not set foot on shore, allowing British Ambassador Sir Brian Fall to say this week: "This is the first ever visit to Russia by a reigning British sovereign."


British heirs to the throne, dukes, princes and princesses have all come to Russia. The queen's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, has visited twice. King Juan Carlos of Spain was the guest of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. But until today, when the communist era is safely dead and buried, the world's best known monarch has kept away. She was first invited to Moscow in 1989 by Gorbachev, but the invitation was formally taken up only earlier this year.


The British side is keen to stress that the state visit means a rehabilitation of Anglo-Russian relations at the highest level.


"This is the opening of a completely new chapter in our relations," Sir Brian said. "It symbolizes the clouds have lifted."


The four-day visit is meant to purge decades of bad feeling on both sides. After 1918 relations between the British royal family and Russia were severed when the Bolshevik government executed Tsar Nicholas II and his family, blood relations of both the queen and Prince Philip.


The British have just as much reason to be embarrassed. The queen's grandfather, King George V, was a childhood friend of his cousin "Nicky," the Russian emperor. The two looked so alike, the story goes, that Nicholas II was mistaken for the bridegroom at his cousin's wedding in 1909. But ultimately politics prevailed over blood when George V, swayed by public opinion, refused asylum to his cousin after the revolution of February 1917.


"It was George V's personal intervention," said Dominic Lieven, historian and biographer of the last Tsar. "He was afraid to be associated with an unpopular dynasty."


Then, in 1921 British Prime Minister David Lloyd George became the first major world leader to recognize the Soviet Union. To this day the British Embassy occupies a prime site in Moscow on Sofiiskaya Naberezhnaya opposite the Kremlin, reputedly to the great irritiation of Stalin, while British cars registered in Russia sport the number-plate 001.Buckingham Palace is evidently still so shy of the Romanov connection that the ambassador said the Queen had no plans to meet any of the surviving royal family and would "probably not" lay a wreath at the tombs of the tsars in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.


Instead the Queen and President Boris Yeltsin will try to pick out the brighter threads in the relations between two countries who have more often been allies than enemies.


In St. Petersburg she will lay a wreath in honor of the dead of World War II, flanked by veterans of the British Arctic convoys that brought supplies to Russia.


"Traditionally they have been the two flanking powers in Europe, in Europe but not quite of it," Lieven observed. "They have also been major colonial expansionists who have a major common interest in opposing a superpower in the center of Europe, usually Germany."


The two countries have been continuously interested in each other since 1553, when Richard Chancellor, England's semi-official ambassador, came to the court of Ivan the Terrible.


Peter the Great was the first in a series of Russian monarchs to fall in love with English engineering and English gentlemen's fashion.


The Queen is being given the grandest possible reception.


In Moscow she will stay in the Kremlin and will be the main guest at a banquet in the Faceted Chamber.


In St. Petersburg she will repay the compliment on the royal yacht Britannia. Yeltsin will fly to St. Petersberg specially for the event.


But the schedule has been designed so that the royal couple will have a chance to meet "ordinary Russians."


The Queen will visit School No. 20 and hand over the first of 40,000 "letters from Britain" intended for every high school in the country.


She will have a walkabout in Red Square, which, it is stressed, will not include a visit to Lenin's mausoleum. And she is also scheduled to address the students of St. Petersburg State University.


The royal sendoff will take place on Thursday on the St. Petersburg quayside that has been recently renamed the Angliiskaya Naberezhnaya or English Embankment, when the Royal Marines will beat a ceremonial retreat.


Schedule of the visit to Russia by HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Oct 17 to 20, 1994





Monday Oct. 17 (Moscow)


Afternoon: Arrive Moscow. Met by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.


Drive to Kremlin.


Official welcoming ceremony, St. George's Hall, Kremlin.


Evening: Performance of "Giselle" at the Bolshoi Theater accompanied by President and Mrs Yeltsin.


Late evening: Reception at British Embassy for Russian guests.





Tuesday Oct. 18 (Moscow)


Morning: Wreath-laying ceremony at Tomb of Unknown Soldier.


Meeting with President Boris Yeltsin followed by tour of the Kremlin.


Walkabout in Red Square.


Visit Old British Embassy (trading house headquarters given to English merchants by Ivan the Terrible in 16th century) and unveil plaque.


Afternoon: Media reception at Tretyakov Gallery.


Visit to School No. 20, central Moscow.


Tour exhibition on British-Russian relations at Maly Theater. Reception for British Embassy.


Duke of Edinburgh visits Russian Academy of Sciences.


Evening: State Banquet in Granovitaya Palace (Faceted Palace) of the Kremlin.


Wednesday Oct. 19 (Moscow/St. Petersburg)


Morning: Visit St. Andrew's Anglican Church.


Duke of Edinburgh visits Church of the Intercession in grounds of former Martha and Mary Convent.


Unveil commemorative stone at site of new British Embassy.


Early afternoon: Fly to St. Petersburg


Visit to Catherine Palace at Pushkin (former Tsarskoye Selo).


Drive to St. Petersburg.


Address to students and faculty of St. Petersburg State University.


Evening: Concert at Yusupov Palace by young Russian musicians.





Thursday Oct. 20 (St. Petersburg)


Morning: Visit Hermitage Museum.


Walkabout. Visit Peter and Paul Fortress.


Lunch with St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak in Mariinsky Palace.


Afternoon: Wreath-laying ceremony at Piskaryovskoye Cemetery accompanied by President and Mrs Yeltsin. Russian and British veterans will line the route.


Meeting with young Russian professionals on board HMY Britannia.


Evening: Banquet on board HMY Britannia.


Reception on board after dinner.


Royal Marines beat retreat.


Official farewell ceremony.


Late Evening. HMY Britannia sails.