The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editors Gregg Morgan, Chris Dale.
A poignant voice towards the end of this docu-drama told viewers Sergei Pugachev was likely to be down to his last £70 million (or it might have been dollars $70 million). That was to put things into perspective. I’m not sure if we were meant to feel sorry for him. My Russian stretches to nada. Pugachev had once been worth around $15 billion. He was a Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin. His portfolio included one of Russia’s largest private banks, shipyards, a coal mine and designer brands. He’d been married but divorced when he employed Countess Alexandra Tolstoy to teach him English.
Tolstoy was still married to Chama Uzikstn, whom she’d met while yomping across Russia on horseback. They were stars of a Russian television series ‘It’ll Never Last’, which proved prophetic. Here we had the English ideal of female beauty celebrated with pale, flawless complexion and rosy cheeks and some dark skinned horseman.
President Putin, Pugachev tells us, wasn’t keen on the Russian oligarch marrying an English rose. Putin told him much the same as he (allegedly) told President Trump that Russia had the most beautiful woman and prostitutes, who could piss on anybody’s bed (perhaps not in that order) even his.
Pugachev tells us he defied Putin and married Countess Alexandra Tolstoy and they had three children together with houses all over the world. It’s a happy-ever-after scenario. The education of the children taking place in their home in Kensington, London. Here we have the English-language version of ‘It’ll Never Last’.
Let’s not fall for he married the wrong woman argument. Bill Browder in his book, Red Notice, tell us how he became ‘Putin’s No.1 Enemy’. Pugachev puts himself around Putin’s No. 3 Enemy. He admits he fears with his life. With almost 40 Russian oligarchs dying and the use of Novichok nerve agent on British soil, and the then British Prime Minster, Teresa May, condemned Russian involvement and naming two Russian agents who had perpetrated the crime, he had good reason.
Post-Soviet Russia after the fall of the Berlin wall was cowboy country in which the Chicago School model attempted to transform Communism into Capitalism in one big gulp. Browder estimates that around twenty men ‘stole’ around 39% of the economy. Pugachev was one of these twenty men which took him into the top 1000 richest men in the world (of around 8 billion).
Putin, the little grey man, was pushed forward by oligarchs and regional gangsters and in January 2000, became President of the Russian Federation. Pugachev was still part of the inner circle, still friendly with Putin as others grabbed the money and fled abroad. England, and London, offered citizenship at a fixed price of around £2 million, access to the money-laundering capital of the world and access to Conservative politicians. Pugachev remained in Moscow.
Pugachev’s narrative that he married an English rose and defied his old friend Putin, doesn’t hold. His claim that Putin’s agents took over his bank and demanded $240 million, accused him of $100 million tax fraud and threatened to kill him, his wife and children unless he paid up immediately does. Browder reports the same tactics and his Russian manager was imprisoned and beaten to death in a jail cell. The Russian state used English law to call for his deportation back to Russia (similar to the tactic they had used with Browder). Here Pugachev made a tactical error, his passport was impounded but he fled London to his chateau in France. In absentia, he was jailed for two years for breaking English law.
Here we’re on the English version of it’ll never last. Countess Tolstoy’s parents were related to THE Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace, (perhaps also to the émigré writer and nobleman Alexi Tolstoy favoured by Stalin) and fully supportive of their daughter marrying a Russian billionaire. When things went badly, they remained supportive. Here’s the narrative of the plucky daughter, who although Pugachev was trying to bully her in the same way Putin was trying to bully him into returning home, she would not bend. The lady’s not for turning narrative.
Pugachev had tried to take her passport and imprison her and the children in his chateau in France. Countess Tolstoy said he’d a gun. He was no longer a billionaire, just another millionaire that tried to control his wife and kids and hit her when things went badly. Billionaire wife beater. That sounds about right, although not factually correct.
Countess Tolstoy was paid to appear on Russian telly, the equivalent of Fox News in America, Putin’s channel and confronted with Pugachev’s claim, she wasn’t even a proper Countess.
Fake news turns up everywhere. The wife beating Pugachev remains abroad. Tolstoy returned to Russia in an attempt to make a living. I guess with Covid-19 she’ll be home now. Home being, Kensington, London. Down and out in London and Moscow. George Orwell, eat your heart out.