Spain's King Juan Carlos on Thursday was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation, the highest honor bestowed by that country, and personally presenting the award to him was President Vladimir Putin.

"I'm very proud to join the distinguished group of people who have received this prize ... Russia and Spain are old and great states whose relations sink their roots in history," said Juan Carlos in his acceptance speech.

The monarch, who on Wednesday began an official visit to Russia at the head of a large business delegation, received the award for his humanitarian activity and his role in Spain's post-Franco transition.

"In 1667, the first Russian ambassador in Spain arrived at the port of Cadiz. Russia was, and I am happy to recall it, the first state in authorizing international recognition to the Courts of Cadiz (during the Napoleonic Wars) through the 'Treaty of friendship, sincere union and alliance between our two countries,' signed by Czar Alexander I," he said.

"Spain, Mr. President, gives its congratulations for the achievements reached by your country and the road of progress that it has been traveling for years. Russia has consolidated itself as a partner of the first order for the European Union," said the king.

Juan Carlos said that "the challenges of the international society of the 21st century require our joint efforts" and that "the European countries and Russia have shown the capacity for cooperation in the face of global challenges such as terrorism and maritime piracy."

"We share responsibilities and, so, we must join together to put an end to the drama being experienced in Syria. The framework for that is, without doubt, the United Nations," he emphasized.

The honor was bestowed on the king on Feb. 23, 2011, by Russia's then-president, Dmitri Medvedev, now the country's prime minister.

Juan Carlos, who could not collect the prize last year, decided to donate the 125,000 euros ($153,000) that accompanied the prize to the Spanish city of Lorca to repair some of the damage caused by the May 2011 earthquake.

This is the only top official honor awarded in Russia and the only one that can be given to foreigners.

Past recipients include writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and former French President Jacques Chirac. EFE