Chirac awarded Russia’s highest state prize

June 13th, 2008 - 1:26 am ICT by IANS  

Moscow, June 12 (DPA) Former French president Jacques Chirac was awarded Russia’s highest state prize for “outstanding humanitarian achievement” in a pomp-filled ceremony at the Kremlin Thursday. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pinned the medal on Chirac’s chest in recognition of his “keen interest in Russian culture that has had a positive influence on our mutual ties”.

Medvedev found proof of Chirac’s closeness to Russia in his translation of Alexander Pushkin’s novel “Eugen Onegin” as a young man.

Analysts said the honour was a hidden nod to Chirac’s close ties and common stance with former Russian leader Vladimir Putin, namely in opposing the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

Chirac beamed with praise for Russia: “Our two countries have always been attracted to each other… the era of ideology has passed away, Russia has stepped onto a democratic path.”

The VIP audience including Putin erupted in applause as loudspeakers in the Kremlin’s throne room translated Chirac’s quotation of 19th century Fyodor Tyutchev: “One can only believe in Russia.”

Chirac is the first foreigner to be so honoured following Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II and Soviet dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

While in office until last year, presidents Chirac and Putin had warm relations and saw a late boom of French investment into Russia.

But Chirac was criticised by human rights activists for awarding France’s Legion d’Honneur to Putin, who they charge with presiding over a rollback in democratic freedoms.

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