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Post-poisoning, Russian expats feel London heat

In green West London, Olga Ivanova spends her lunch break in a park near the employment agency where she works, but her thoughts are elsewhere.

She says it's hard not to think about the case of spying poisoning the headlines in her adoptive country for the last three weeks, triggering worldwide diplomatic fallout; She can not help but wonder what that might mean for Russians like her who live in Britain.

Russia accuses Russia of having poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a banned nerve disease assets of wealthy Russians in the UK

Ms. Ivanova is one of an estimated 150,000 Russians based in London, sometimes known as the "Moscow-on-the-Thames", home to Europe's largest Russian expatriate community.

Mega oaks shining their money in the Harrods department store or eat calf's liver in Mari Vanna, a Russian restaurant with nostalgic themes, attracts all attention. But Ivanova is not an oligarch, not a dissident or a regime-critical oligarch. She is one of the tens of thousands of Russians who lead a much more normal life in the British capital, but are afraid of a relapse through the Skripal Affair.

She is aware of the rich oligarchic cliché – and anti-Russian hostility that intensified on 4 March following the poisoning of Mr. Skripal – a former Russian intelligence officer who spied on Britain – and his daughter Yulia.

And she rejects this stereotype. "It's kind of frustrating because it's such a minority of Russians and they're not what most Russians are," she complains. I do not have much money and I still have to repay debts, so the realities for most people are very different. "

" There are people for a variety of reasons and from many different generations, "explains Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King's College in London." The population is diverse. "

Ivanova was still never in Knightsbridge – the swanky neighborhood that is the undisputed heart of "Londongrad" – and with her Australian husband she prefers to avoid the Russian community.

"With other Russians in London, I'm always careful because you do not know what their political views are, "she says." They could be at you at a completely different end of the spectrum. "

A Moving Mood

Wealthy Russians have been flooded in London since the fall of the Soviet Union , and in the last 15 years, the Diaspora has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, even for the middle-class Russians, whose rising numbers have led to an explosion of Russian K cultural events, balls, theatrical productions, restaurants and niche shops that enhance London's appeal for expatriates.

Ownership and life in London, even part-time, gives it its status to the Russian elite, which receives British residency under the "Golden Visa" program when they receive 2 million pounds (2.8 million dollars) into the country invest. Many wealthy Russians have invested in the booming London real estate market to protect their assets, and those on the wrong side of the Moscow authorities feel secure: Britain has granted political asylum to every businessman Russia tries to extradite. But British Prime Minister Theresa May has suggested that her government become less tolerant – and pay more attention to the financial affairs of expatriates, as proposed by Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The prospect of a backlash against Russians creates "psychological tensions" for wealthy members of the Russian community, says Alexey Firsov, who heads a social think tank in Moscow. "There are rumors about possible verifications by British authorities about the origin of their property, some are transparent, others are not, there are risks," he says.

"These people have nothing to do with the history of Skripal, [but] they could become a kind of bargaining chip," he adds. 19659017] If targeted, says Roman Borisovich, co-founder of political interest group ClampK.org, which is fighting money laundering in the UK, they will only be responsible.

Most wealthy Russians, surrounded by their personal entourage, "do not want to assimilate or mix with Londoners," he says. They have also angered locals by buying trophy houses and leaving them empty, which aggravated the housing shortage in London.

"The fact that they do not integrate makes them vulnerable because the British see no need." Borisovich says. "They are not friends, and when the country is asked to get rid of rich Russians, there will be no tears from the Londoners, and it will be completely self-inflicted when a true anti-Russian sentiment grows in London."

But a crackdown would serve the purpose serve the government to hurt President Putin? Alexey Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, an independent think tank in Moscow, does not think.

On the contrary, "the Russian government will be happy to see rich Russians pushed out of the UK," he argues. "If (civil servants) are money and families abroad, that is unpleasant for the Kremlin". "British authorities may doubt their loyalty to Britain, but the authorities in Moscow also doubt their loyalty to Russia."


In northern London, another Russian immigrant, Tasha Nova, 31, from Siberia, has just come back from work. She came to London in 2009 to study Industrial Design and has since built her career here. She says many Russian expats have a difficult relationship with their country.

"I grew up in the Soviet Union, then we had the wild 90s, and it was not until the 2000s that Russia began to form its identity, and then I left the country, so I was never very patriotic," she says. "But I'm disappointed with my home country," she adds, saying she does not pay much attention to the news from home.

This apathy about Russian domestic politics seems to be widespread. Fewer than 3,700 people have voted in the Russian presidential election this month in the Russian Embassy – less than 10 percent of the estimated number of Russian adults living in London.

"This month I've seen great political unrest, but nothing has changed in my little bubble," says Ms. Nova, "because of the script poisoning." Russia has been in so many conflicts worldwide and there's always a big one Scandal in the news, but then everything goes on. Nothing will change. "

Back in West London, Ivanova says she loves her country and feels very" like an outsider "in the UK as a former activist for LGBT rights -" the worst kind of activist one can be in Russia she asks, wondering where her future lies.

"I do not feel threatened here, but I worry about where politics will go in Russia and whether it is still a safe place for me to return to my political views, "she says. I wonder how far the Russian government will go. It's frustrating, depressing. and it's a little scary. "

Like Mrs. Nova, she tries to avoid the news.There is an old Soviet joke, roughly translated, which she says has become her watchword:" Do not read the news before lunch It will ruin your digestion. "

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