Not all's forgiven as queen tours a czarless Russia

QUEEN Elizabeth II turned her back on royal scandals at home during a historic visit to Russia this week, determined not to let the already bruised monarchy's image further deteriorate abroad.

Looking regal in a diamond tiara and mink coat, the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, and Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd on Oct. 17 attended an evening performance of the ballet Giselle at the Bolshoi Theater, sitting with President Boris Yeltsin in the box that traditionally was reserved for the czar.

The gesture was a signal that the British royal family has forgiven the country that killed its last czar, Nicholas II, and his family in 1918. The Romanovs were the queen's distant cousins.

``For Russia, this visit is the utmost recognition that our country is on the road to democracy,'' said President Yeltsin, whose shaky reputation at home may get a boost from the queen's highly publicized trip.

But in an unforeseen snub, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who next week faces a no-confidence vote in his government, did not return as planned from a Black Sea holiday to welcome the monarch.

And Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, apparently miffed by Britain's cool attitude to his diplomatic initiative in Iraq, did not return from New York to meet his British counterpart, Douglas Hurd.

The queen's four-day visit, designed to help Britain reconcile with Russia following decades of cold war hostility, marks the first time a reigning British monarch has set foot on Russian soil.

When Edward VII made the only previous state visit to what was then the Russian empire in 1908, he never stepped ashore, meeting Nicholas II instead on royal yachts off the Baltic port of what is now Tallinn. And Elizabeth I did not even leave London to decline a marriage proposal from Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century.

``After years of division and confrontation, Europe is entering another time of opportunity with peace and prosperity within our reach, provided only that we remember the lessons of the past and learn to live and work together,'' the queen said in a weekend address to the Russian people, transmitted by the official Russian Itar-Tass news agency.

ON Oct. 18 the queen, who brought along two of her Rolls-Royce limousines, toured Red Square and the Kremlin and visited an English-language school before speaking at a state banquet.

On Oct. 19, the royal couple is scheduled to fly to St. Petersburg, the old imperial capital and cradle of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. They depart for home Oct. 20 aboard the queen's yacht.

The queen was not, however, planning to meet any of the pretenders to the Russian throne, or their supporters, who have bickered acrimoniously over who is the legitimate heir to the Romanov throne.

DNA samples taken from Prince Philip, a blood relative of the last Czarina Alexandra, have ruled out most of the claimants.

But history may not be completely forgotten. The memory of Russia's murdered monarch could remain troublesome for Yeltsin, who in 1977 personally gave the order to demolish the Ipatyev house, where the Romanovs were murdered, when he was Communist Party chief in the Urals Mountains city of Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg. The house bothered the leadership as it had become a shrine for pilgrims.

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