LONDON -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking closer ties with Europe and an improved international image, told British business leaders today that Russia has learned from past mistakes and faced the future with ''tremendous self-confidence.''
Putin, on his first trip to the West as president, met with Prime Minister Tony Blair and also had an appointment with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, west of London.
Groups of demonstrators dogged Putin, angered at the Russian crackdown in Chechnya and allegations that troops have used excessive force and executed civilians in the breakaway republic.
Some 50 protesters, waving Chechen flags, chanted slogans as the Russian leader's bulletproof limousine swept up to Blair's 10 Downing Street residence, where he held talks and had lunch.
''Russia is not a shortened map of the ex-Soviet Union. It is a country which has tremendous self-confidence, a self-confidence based not only on our experience of reform but on errors we have committed,'' Putin told the Confederation of British Industry before meeting Blair at the start of the 24-hour visit.
''We have tried to learn the lesson, and during the last years we have learned how to distinguish real opportunities from superficial opportunities,'' he said.
He pledged to tackle Russia's burdensome tax code, create an independent judicial system, and said his primary goal was to integrate Russia into the world economy.
''We understand that our problems are complex, but our success is dependent also on patience, endurance and understanding of all the people we consider our partners. And by this I mean you,'' Putin said.
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