- guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 May 2010 17.11 BST
Vladimir Putin has snubbed both the Prince of Wales and the US vice-president, Joe Biden, by refusing to allow them to attend a parade in Red Square marking the 65th anniversary of the end of the second world war, the Guardian has learned.
Russia invited Gordon Brown and other heads of state to attend the Kremlin's celebrations on Sunday – the biggest ever. But with the prime minister unable to attend because of the general election, the Foreign Office suggested Prince Charles instead.
Last week, however, the prince was quietly stood down after Putin made it clear that he did not want him there – apparently in a sign of his continuing annoyance with the UK over its failure to extradite Boris Berezovsky, the Kremlin critic and former oligarch, to Russia.
Putin, Russia's prime minister, also snubbed Biden, who had planned to go to Moscow and has been left kicking his heels in Brussels. Biden is close to Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president. During the 2008 Russian-Georgia war Putin famously threatened Saakashvili, pledging to "hang him by the balls".
The White House is privately furious at the snub. Barack Obama told Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, he was unable to attend but had confidently offered Biden as his replacement. Moscow's diplomatic corps has been abuzz all week with news of Putin's unexpected veto.
Pavel Felgenhaur, a defence analyst and columnist with the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper, said that Putin had personally decided to kick Prince Charles off the list. "It was entirely his decision," he said. Other sources have confirmed the story.
Felgenhaur said the Kremlin was in an uncompromising mood following a string of recent foreign policy successes. These include the overthrow of Ukraine's pro-western government and its replacement by a pro-Russian one, and last month's revolution in Kyrgyzstan, now run by a more Kremlin-friendly administration.
For the first time, troops from Britain, France and the US – the Soviet Union's wartime allies – are taking part in the victory parade, marching alongside 10,500 Russian soldiers. More than 25 foreign leaders will attend, including France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel.
But there will be no senior British figure. Both the UK and US will be represented by their respective ambassadors, Dame Anne Pringle and John Beyrle. Pringle hosted a reception on Thursday at the new British residence in Moscow, along with soldiers from the 2nd Company Battalion the Welsh guards who will march in Red Square.
UK-Russian relations have improved since the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko and Britain's subsequent expulsion of Russian diplomats. But Putin has apparently not forgiven what he regards as an earlier betrayal by Tony Blair, who failed to phone him when Berezovsky was granted asylum in 2003.
Ever since, Putin has declined offers to meet senior British representatives. There has been no formal meeting with Gordon Brown over the past three years. Kremlin politicians today expressed a clear preference for a new Conservative or Conservative-led administration in Downing Street.
"I think the Conservatives will not escape a review of relations with Russia. And the review as such will lead to healthier relations between Britain and Russia," Gleb Pavlovsky, an analyst closely connected to the Kremlin, told the news agency Interfax, adding that Labour had "aggravated" ties with Russia.