Scott Payton finds out why the capital is the global destination of choice for Russia’s commercial elite
Three of the 10 richest people in the UK are Russian. And they all loom large on the London business scene.
Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea Football Club. Alisher Usmanov holds a chunk of Arsenal. Leonard Blavatnik chairs industrial mega-group Access Industries from his home in Kensington Palace Gardens as well as New York.
“Russians are becoming a new British minority”
Russia’s growing love of London is not restricted to the super-rich. The number of Russian-born people in the UK shot up from 15,000 in 2001 to more than 32,000 in 2009 – with London the destination of choice.
“At its peak this year, the visa section of the British Embassy in Moscow had 16,500 visa applications to deal with,” says Stephen Dalziel, executive director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.
“Russian are becoming a new British minority,” says Vadim Granovskiy, project manager for Britain’s biggest Russian newspaper, Angliya. “And London is the global number-one destination for Russians.”
“The proximity to Moscow is a key factor,” says Granovskiy, a Ukrainian who came to London as a student 10 years ago and decided to stay.
“Many Russian businessmen commute from Moscow to London. The journey doesn’t take much more than three hours. And there is a huge choice of flights between the two cities.”
Dalziel agrees. “London’s proximity to Moscow – and its relatively small time-zone difference – gives the city an advantage over the US,” he adds.
“For many Russian companies, having an office in London is an image thing,” says Granovskiy.
“Russians have had a lot of respect for the UK for many years. Margaret Thatcher once declared that Mikhail Gorbachev was a man that she could do business with. Russians still love her for that.”
“Many Russians are heavily influenced by British culture,” says Granovskiy.
“The older generation of Russian businessmen read English literature, from Shakespeare to Dickens, during the time of the Soviet Union.
“These businessmen start by travelling to London. Then, when they can afford it, they buy London property and settle there.”
London is also firmly established as Russians’ destination of choice for an international IPO
“For modern Russians, English is the number-one foreign language to learn. And English English is more attractive than American English for Russians,” says Dalziel.
“Many Russians come to London to boost their career: you stay here for a year or so, and come back with improved English and an enriched cultural background which help to progress your career internationally,” adds Granovskiy.
“Twenty years ago, German was the most popular choice for Russian learning a second language in schools. Now it’s English. Many of the younger generation can speak fluent English by the time they leave school.”
“We have some of the best private schools in the world,” says Dalziel. “Russians who can afford it want their children to have the best education possible.”
“There are about 10,000 Russian students in the UK,” adds Granovskiy. “Many of London’s Russian students stay in the city when they graduate, and become middle-class professionals here.”
“So many Russians have said to me that the main attractions of London are what they see as stability, tradition and history,” says Dalziel.
“Russia has had a very turbulent history in the past 100 years in particular. Russians see the continuity of Parliament and other institutions; of buildings that are hundreds of years old. To many Russians this sends the message that this is the country where tradition and stability counts.”
“London has always had a reputation as a strong financial centre,” says Granovskiy. “The city is an ideal destination for those who want to engage in business development.
“For those involved in offshore investments, all the advisers they need to deal with are based in London. This plays a major role in Russians’ presence here.”
London is also firmly established as Russians’ destination of choice for an international IPO. By November 2010, there were 100 firms from Russia and the CIS region on the London Stock Exchange Group’s markets, with 42 on the main market.
“Many wealthy Russians view London property as a safe, secure investment that is unlikely to go wrong,” Granovskiy says.
London’s most powerful Russians
Estimated wealth: £8.18bn
Estimated wealth: £12.4bn
Estimated wealth: £6.2bn