In Depth

How London became the European city of choice for Russia’s richest people

Security, educational and social opportunities draw Russian elite to the English capital

The UK has “welcomed Russian money” and asked “few questions” about the “provenance of this considerable wealth”, according to a newly published report about Russian influence in Britain.

The long-awaited review by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found that successive UK governments have allowed foreign citizens into the country to launder the profits of illicit activities while gaining power and influence within politics, media and wider society.

Why have wealthy Russians come to the UK?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, “a group of savvy (though not always savoury) business magnates found themselves in possession of enormous riches”, says Tatler.

Rather than stay in Russia, where their newfound wealth – and even their lives – were at risk, “they looked west, to the world’s financial capital – and London’s politicians welcomed them and their wallets with open arms”, the magazine continues.

This willingness to overlook the origins of the new arrivals’ riches was part of the appeal for many Russians. The UK has simply “turned a blind eye” to Russian “dirty money” being laundered through London, according to a report released in 2018 by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

In return, the UK financial sector became a “major beneficiary of the massive flight of Russian cash”, as Reuters reported at the time.

Many wealthy Russians were also drawn by “the benefits of a more stable country”, including “property values, high-quality private education and a renowned judicial system”, says The Times.

Others came in search of social opportunities - and found them. Within a generation, a number of Russian families have become fixtures of the British social scene, adds Tatler.

“Where the parents may have been seen as parvenus, the progeny are unambiguously accepted as mainstays of high society – they decorate the pages of Bystanders both British and Russian, they’re regulars at Henley, Ascot and Annabel’s,” according to the magazine.

Indeed, there are “so many rich, showy, notorious Russians [in London] that it has become a cliche”, says The Washington Post. “Moscow-on-the-Thames? Londongrad? Take your pick.”

Will the ISC report diminish Russian influence in the UK?

The ISC’s report will have “a very important impact going forward”, says Bill Browder, an anti-corruption campaigner who is the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, a US law intended to put pressure on Russia’s political class through sanctions.

“The importance of this report is not to relitigate the past but to create proper defences for the future,” Browder adds.

However, the ISC warns that Russian money is now so pervasive in Britain that its influence is “the new normal”. 

Rather than eradicating it entirely, the MPs’ “pessimistic conclusion” is that “the most that Britain can now hope to do is to mitigate Russian influence”, says The Times’ leading article today.

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