Press Article

We're not all mafia - angry Russian envoy

THE Russian ambassador has triggered a new stand-off with Britain by accusing the police of treating Russian residents and tourists like the mafia.  Yuri Fedotov said that “Russophobia” was leading to problems ranging from discrimination in shops and restaurants to serious assaults.  In an interview with The Sunday Times, Fedotov, a former deputy foreign minister who was posted to London in 2005, said: “Maybe that is as a result of this stereotype that any Russian is connected to the mafia.”  An estimated 400,000 Russians live in Britain and many of London’s most expensive properties are owned by super-rich businessmen such as Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deri-paska and Boris BerezovskyIt is rare for a foreign diplomat to be so outspoken on the treatment of his or her country’s citizens in a developed country, and the ambassador’s remarks will be interpreted as a renewed sign of the deteriorating relations.  Fedotov said concerns about the developing Russophobia in Britain had already been raised with senior government figures.  Fedotov, who has previously condemned the British investigation into the murder of Alex-ander Litvinenko, said: “I can quote examples where Russians were beaten by youngsters in London. Tourists, visitors, businessmen. They were severely beaten and the police did not open any investigation on these particular incidents.” However, he claimed, offences committed by Russians were dealt with swiftly and disproportionately. “I have an example when a woman had a minor violation, a traffic violation, and she was arrested by police force, lots of cars, handcuffed. Maybe that is as a result of the stereotype that any Russian is connected to the mafia.”  He added that Russians had complained that they were refused service in shops, restaurants and taxis.  “From time to time Russians in London encounter some sort of mistreatment. It is hard to say whether it is some kind of Russophobia or whether it is a particular case of xenophobia which is developing here [in Britain].”  British-Russian relations are already frosty. Last week the Moscow authorities announced that they were unwilling to send Andrei Lugovoi, the suspect in the Litvinenko case, for trial in the UK.  Russia has become increasingly important to Britain. More than 170,000 Russian tourists visit every year and more than 2,000 Russian students are enrolled at British universities.  Annual trade with Russia has risen to more than £7 billion and Russians have spent more than £2.2 billion on property here since 2000 – more than was spent by people from the Middle East and US combined.  The Russian and British governments have publicly indicated that they would like closer links. Fedotov said: “I hope that we will be able to overcome the current stage and we will be able to improve our relations.”  Other Russians and Russian experts said last week that the atmosphere towards Russians in Britain had changed over the past few years. Aliona Muchinskaya, founder of Red Square public relations, which specialises in representing Russian firms, said: “In diplomatic circles I think they are being treated differently.  “It went from one extreme, with everybody thinking that Muscovites spend their days picking potatoes in the fields, to people thinking that everyone was so rich. They thought that all the women were here because they were prostitutes and all the men wore gold chains and came from mafia land.”