. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's English Earns Him an A

When President Vladimir Putin wanted to show that he can speak the Queen's English, he went to the toughest judge -- the queen herself.

By opening his speech at a Buckingham Palace state banquet with a few sentences in flawless English, Putin drew plaudits and bolstered his credentials as an international-minded Russian leader.

Some previous Russian and Soviet leaders may have had a smattering of English, but none put it on public display with Putin's aplomb.

Opening his speech at the Tuesday banquet, Putin said in English: "We would like to express to Her Majesty and the people of the United Kingdom our sincere condolences for the loss of the British soldiers in Iraq. It's clear for everyone that in spite of the differences that existed before today, we need to act jointly."

He then continued in Russian, but the brief words' impression was strong.

"I think he spoke beautifully," Harry Cummins of the British Council, a government-funded organization that promotes British culture around the world, said in London.

"Gorbachev's English was unusable. Nobody could speak English. Not Khrushchev, Brezhnev nor Andropov. Stalin had no time," said Gennady Gerasimov, former head of the Interior Ministry's information department.

Putin is also the first leader able to speak German, he said.

Putin learned German as a KGB agent in East Germany and takes opportunities to show it off. He has sometimes opened meetings with foreign leaders with a brief chat in English, but the formality of the Buckingham Palace banquet raised the bar.

Part of Putin's appeal to Russians is the air of self-discipline that he projects and his efforts to learn English reinforce the image.

Professor Alla Nazarenko, the deputy dean of the faculty of modern languages at Moscow State University, said Putin's use of English was both a sign of respect and a sign of the times.

"It was to be polite, to please the queen, but it was also a recognition of the importance of English today, the most widely spread language for international communications," she said.

Boris Yeltsin's former image adviser, who runs a political image consultancy, said a leader of Putin's stature needs at least one, if not two foreign languages.

"A Russian leader of today must of course be able to speak English and maybe even a second European language," Yekaterina Yegorova said. Yeltsin, perhaps a bit too late, is also having English lessons, Yegorova said.

Cummins of the British Council said 2 million Russians are learning English at any one time.

Putin's decision to learn English is "practical and pragmatic," Gerasimov said. "It isn't so he can read Shakespeare," he added.