The Monarchy in Turmoil: Kremlin welcome for the Queen on historic visit

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The Independent Online
PAST a towering Yuri Gagarin in titanium, a bronze Lenin in Oktyabrskaya Square, and lesser icons of an ancien regime built on regicide, the Queen yesterday entered the Russian capital, conveyed by Rolls-Royce, to the Kremlin through snarled traffic and bemused stares.

The journey along Leninsky Prospekt began the first visit to Russia by a reigning British monarch, a trip first mooted more than 400 years ago when Ivan the Terrible sent a marriage proposal - 'graciously declined', according to the British version of history - to Elizabeth I.

Also declined, because of the Bolsheviks' murder of the last tsar, Nicholas II and his family in 1918, have been insistent invitations from the Communist Party. With Bolshevism toppled, the long- awaited rendezvous could finally take place yesterday on a red carpet in the St George's Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace - a simple handshake, a bow, more a nod really, and a bouquet of orange and yellow roses from President Boris Yeltsin.

The Queen showed not a hint of the 'disquiet' which aides say she feels over the latest drama afflicting her family. Buckingham Palace's position on Prince Charles's serialised public misery has been firmly fixed for the duration of the four-day visit to Moscow and St Petersburg: 'The book is a separate issue from the most important state visit for decades,' a spokesman said yesterday.

Under scarcely less scrutiny is President Yeltsin, himself at the centre of a furore because of boisterous - political enemies say drunken - behaviour during trips to Berlin and Washington and his notorious no-show at Shannon airport. Hands clasped firmly at his side, Mr Yeltsin was clearly struggling to project a picture of sobriety.

Mr Yeltsin, a veteran practitioner of the Kremlin kiss and Russian bear-hug, faltered only momentarily, reaching out as if to steer the Queen towards the receiving line but then pulling himself back firmly into line with royal protocol.

Curiously absent from the Kremlin reception, on holiday on the Black Sea, was Russia's Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomrydin. Officials played down this departure. 'For a snub to occur, the Queen has to feel snubbed. This is not the case,' her spokesman said.

(Photograph omitted)