If relations between France and Russia have always had a particular passion, this same cannot be said about Russia and England. Relations between two nations, if we are talking about the peoples themselves, have always been rather cold.
However, England established relations with Moscow earlier than other countries. The first shopping yard at Ivan the Terrible's court was English. The Germans appeared much later, but settled for longer - there was even a German neighbourhood near Moscow, and Catherine the Great gave the Germans land in the Volga region the size of Germany.
French history, with Joan of Arc, Robespierre, Napoleon and de Gaulle inevitably captivated the Russian heart, yet no English hero was able to catch the Russian imagination in the same way. The only exception was, perhaps, Byron, but he became an idol for a small group of Russian romantic aristocrats and did not gain fame as a genuine English lord, but as a rebel, a freedom fighter in Greece, and a vociferous critic of English society.
Here we reach the essence of the problem - relations between England and Russia were, above all, relations between two aristocracies. Moreover, Russians were always late to express their feelings, the English were always the first to give Russians the cold shoulder and the Russians had nothing left but to show their indignation.
The secret of the English reserve towards Russia was to a large extent due to the fact that Russia claimed, although usually in dreams, global or regional supremacy, which meant a possible confrontation with England, which was more successful with gaining dominance in the 18th-19th centuries.
Britain is an island and deep in their hearts Englishmen are sailors on board their country. The British have a highly developed instinct when it comes to mutual assistance, a sense of team and common responsibility. The monarch is just a steersman and hostage of the great ship. In storm, the king or queen is on the deck together with the other sailors.
Russia is a land of the forest and steppe; Russians are horsemen, for whom a good horse is better than an army. They tread on firm ground, not water. Thus, there is no need for the consolidated spirit of a sea team - if defeat is looming, the horsemen will disperse up hill and down dale and then meet again in battle. The Russian tsar is a deity that should not fight alongside others or sit at the rudder.
There are no two other things less alike than the firm spirit of sailors and the freedom of steppe riders. This initial difference in thinking in the long run led to an intense confrontation between the two powers and two aristocracies. Even when fighting against Napoleon, they avoided contact with each other and Kutuzov and Wellington won their victories separately.
When Queen Victoria learnt that her beloved Alice, Princess Alice Gessen-Darmschtadt, who she had brought up, was going to marry the heir to the Russian throne, the future Nicholas II, she wrote her a long and desperate letter. There are no moral foundations in Russia, the Queen wrote and predicted trouble.
Well, she was right: Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna was shot dead together with her husband and children in a basement. Yet, however strange it might seem, today the Russian public believes the English are also partly to blame for the tragedy. King George V had a real opportunity to save the dethroned emperor's family by sending a ship to Petrograd, for which the Provisional Government had already given its consent, but the English sense of reserve got in the way - this was someone else's problem.
The death of the Russian aristocracy almost destroyed the basis of relations between the two countries. The two countries were brought together only by the war against Nazism.
Churchill became the first politician to gain popularity in Russia, then, after a long hiatus, Margaret Thatcher and later Princess Diana became unexpectedly popular. The ground for this love was laid by the cult of The Beatles that did not pass by Russia. Accordingly, in the middle 20th century the tone in bilateral relations was for the first time set by the masses.
Thatcher became the star of new Russian feminism of the 1980s, shocking Russians with her art of the polemic and... the words that she took an aspirin every morning. Aspirin was snatched up all over the country overnight. Princess Diana caused sympathetic tears when she visited a hospital to see children with cerebral paralysis and kneeled in front of a child's bed to hear him better.
Today, the main British hero among both the Russian elite and ordinary Russians is, most probably, Paul McCartney, an ordinary guy from Liverpool and at the same time a star of the international beau monde.
Still, we are very different and sometimes enjoy it. For the English, Russians are slaves of the power, for the Russians, Englishmen are slaves of etiquette. From a distance Russians see England as a country where everyone is tied to convention, where precious relations have got the better of humanity.
Russian taxi drivers believe that Roman Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea humiliated both countries, while their London colleagues see it from the sporting and business viewpoint and in a positive light: the man is ready to open his wallet for an English club.
Yet the brightest example of the difference between the two mentalities is provided by breeds of dog, the Russian borzoi and the English bulldog. The borzoi is fascinatingly graceful and reminds one of a floating ostrich feather, while the bulldog is a scary bone-grinding machine. The former gladdens the eye, but the latter scares with its crocodile jaw. The borzoi is poetic, while the bulldog is downright practical.
Since the likes of the traditional Inauguration Day in the national Capitol are likely never to be witnessed again, take this opportunity from one who has been there to relate some truth about the experience