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Russians in London

What you need to know about London's crazy Russian expats

On November 23, 2006, a frail, bald-headed man suffered a heart attack and died in a London hospital. A month before, he hadn't been frail, and he hadn't been bald. Alexander Litvinenko had been a robust, beefy former agent of the Russian KGB and its successor agency, the FSB. And it wasn't just a heart attack--by the time he died, it was clear that the 44-year-old Litvinenko had been exposed to a massive dose of radioactive polonium-210. But by whom? And why?

It's a classic whodunit, but a rich and largely unexplored undercurrent is the way expatriate Russians have taken London as their home. This makes some sense: Russians have always been Anglophiles, and Russia's politics have frequently been shaped by Great Britain, from the days of exiled philosopher Alexander Herzen to Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx, who is buried in London's Highgate Cemetery, across the road from Litvinenko's grave. To understand that relationship, here is a guide to some helpful sources.

    •  Alexander Herzen has enjoyed something of a comeback, thanks to Tom Stoppard's marathon, nine-hour play on Herzen and his intellectual playmates, "The Coast of Utopia." When the play opened, The New York Times' William Grimes looked back at Herzen's 1852 book (written from London), My Life and Thoughts.
    •  These days, one of those trying to shoot political bullets at Moscow from London is the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who helped bring Russian President Vladimir Putin to power--and, almost ever since, has been trying to bring him down. Project Syndicate collected a couple of Berezovsky's essays in The People vs. Putin. Also, don't miss Berezovsky's account of The Oligarch Wars. The website for Berezovsky's International Foundation for Civil Liberties hasn't been updated for a while, but it's worth a look.
    •  Russia finally appears to be getting its capital-flight problem in hand. But, for a rundown on the $220 billion in cross-border deposits Russian residents have in foreign banks--most of them in the United Kingdom--see the 2006 report from the Bank for International Settlement.
    •  Berezovsky's fellow oligarch, Roman Abramovich, still maintains a residence in Moscow, in addition to his various townhouses in London and his rural estate. In town, he's most often seen at games of the Chelsea football club. Of course, no oligarch would be complete without a website devoted to him. At this one, you can call up cool pictures of Roman's yachts, not to mention the work he has done in the remote, impoverished Russian region of Chukotka, where he is governor.
    •  The first Russian-language newspaper in London, which began publication in 1994, is the Russian Courier. It's website is in Russian, but there's also a decent Russian news portal in English.
    •  For news on the Russian Orthodox Church in London, which has been involved in a leadership fight as dramatic as the roiling politics of Moscow, go to the website of the Diocese of Sourozh. The old White Russians established a church of their own in the neighborhood of Chiswick, where its fund-raising is overseen by Count Andrei Tolstoy-Miloslavsky, a descendant of Leo Tolstoy who hosts London's annual War and Peace Ball. A brief article on the church can be found here.

By Kim Murphy