7 of the Most Unusual Gifts World Leaders Gave Biden in 2021

  • World leaders bestow lavish gifts upon their foreign counterparts each year.
  • The State Department this week released its audit on gifts US officials received in 2021.
  • Here are seven of the most unusual, unique, or noteworthy presents President Joe Biden got that year.

From designer watches to symbolic artwork, world leaders showered President Joe Biden and members of his administration with tens of thousands of dollars worth of unique and culturally significant gifts in 2021.

Presidents, prime ministers, and even the pope himself bestow gifts galore upon federal employees each year, partaking in the long-held foreign diplomacy practice.

The State Department on Thursday released its annual accounting of gifts for the year 2021, posting the unpublished audit on the website of the Federal Register this week. The 70-page document offers rare insight into the politics of present-giving at the highest levels of governance, capturing the mores and moments among several since-soured relationships between big-wig world leaders.

While most premiers opt to gift standard souvenirs, such as glassware, jewelry, or literature, others may choose to share more memorable mementos. These are seven of the most unusual presents gifted to President Joe Biden in 2021.

Putin gave Biden a $12,000 desk set

Less than a year before Vladimir Putin launched his unprompted war in Ukraine, the Russian president gifted Biden a Kholuy Lacquer miniature workshop desk writing set and pen valued at $12,000, according to the State Department.

The present came as the two leaders met in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16, 2021, for the 2021 Russia-United States Summit, in what was to be the last public-facing meeting between the two before relations between the two countries soured.

The expensive desk set has since been transferred to the National Archives after Biden accepted the gift on the grounds that failing to do so would be an embarrassment to both Russia and the US. 

Australia’s then-prime minister gifted Biden a pair of leather boots

Scott Morrison, who served as prime minister of Australia from 2018 to 2022 gave Biden a pair of RM Williams of Australia leather boots in June 2021 during the G7 Summit. 

The $500 boots, however, did not win Morrison a one-on-one with Biden during the trip, where then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined the duo for a trilateral meeting.

Despite passing on a private meeting with Morrison, Biden did accept the Australian leader’s footwear present, and the boots have since been transferred to the National Archives. 

Queen Elizabeth gave the president a photo of herself

The late Queen Elizabeth gave the gift of herself during the 2021 G7 summit in England. The monarch, who died in September 2022, presented Biden with a photo of herself in a silver frame valued at $2,200, according to the State Department. 

The then-95-year-old leader prompted laughs among world leaders during a pre-summit reception when she quipped: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourselves?”

The framed photo is currently on official display, according to the State Department. 

Queen Elizabeth and Joe Biden stand together on a stage.

Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Joe Biden attend the president’s ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle on June 13, 2021 in Windsor, England.

Photo by Pool/Max Mumby/Getty Images

Afghanistan’s since-deposed president gifted nearly $30,000 worth of silk carpets

In late June 2021, weeks before Biden ordered all US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, then-Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani and his wife gifted Biden and first lady Jill Biden silk rugs worth $28,800, according to the State Department.

While Biden’s rug from Ghani clocked in at $9,600, the Afghanistan leader’s wife, Rula Ghani, went all out for the $19,200 silk carpet she gifted Jill Biden. 

Less than two months after that June meeting, Ghani fled Afghanistan, taking refuge in the United Arab Emirates, after the Taliban quickly reclaimed control of the country in August following the withdrawal of US troops.

Boris Johnson gave Biden a hodgepodge of unusual items

Boris Johnson, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, appeared to prioritize the sheer number of presents he brought for Biden during the June 2021 G7 summit over price.

Among the miscellaneous items were two dog bowls, two Atlantic wool blankets, a ceramic cup and mug set, a fountain pen accompanied by a bottle of ink, a photograph of a Frederick Douglass mural in Edinburgh, and a G7UK2021 printed face mask. The total estimated value of Johnson’s gifts totaled $536.20, according to the State Department.

A little more than a year later, Johnson resigned from his position in July 2022 following a series of scandals and calls for his departure. His gifts to Biden have since been transferred to the National Archives. 

Angela Merkel invoked Biden’s childhood home in her present

In September 2021, Biden received a set of gifts from the then-German chancellor Angela Merkel, including a Meissen tea set and a pen drawing of the president’s childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, according to the audit.

The gifts were valued at $780. The tea set was transferred to the National Archives while the pen drawing remains on official display. 

Merkel left office in December 2021 after 16 years.

Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy sit in the Oval Office.

President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 1, 2021, in Washington.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy gave Biden a meaningful US flag during a 2021 visit

Less than a year before his country would be thrust into war with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the White House in September 2021, bringing along a 56″ x 93″ US flag as a gift for Biden. 

During the 2021 visit, Biden assured Zelenskyy of his administration’s ongoing support for Ukraine’s sovereignty — a pledge that has been tested in the 12 months since Russia invaded the country last February. 

The US has since given Ukraine billions of dollars of aid and weaponry in the country’s fight. The flag gifted by Zelenskyy has since been transferred to the National Archives.

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