Many Russians live in the British capital. But if you ask them about the current espionage affair, most of them remain silent.
They keep to themselves: Windows of the Russian embassy in London Photo: ap
"Putin, the pariah," screams as a headline from the front page of London’s free newspaper Metro every morning. Russia has managed to push even Brexit out of the news. The focus is now also on London’s Russian exile community: 16,348 born in Russia, but 150,000 if you interpret Russian affiliation more generously. "Londongrad" is what some wicked tongues call it.
Katarina Klimov, whose real name is different, has lived in London for 15 years. "I don’t feel quite Russian anymore," explains the thirty-something from the Ural Mountains in an elegant cafe around the corner from Harrods. "London has become my home." But now she is thinking about her future.
Already because of visa restrictions after the Litvinenko murder, many friends suddenly couldn’t come, she recalls. Among her experiences today were nasty remarks while shopping. A neighbor shouted loudly at her from the window across the street: "She yelled that we Russians should behave ourselves or go back to our country."
She does not feel offended by this, after all she comes from a former empire, equal to Great Britain, the young woman says. And yet she says that none of her Russian friends and acquaintances here agree with the direction of the government in Moscow. It is precisely this that outrages Putin. And that’s why she doesn’t want to see her real name in print. She thinks that London is more of a possible place of asylum for Russians. Nevertheless, the way the media here reported about Russia was inflated, just as it came from the Russian media. You can’t believe either side.
"Many of my friends changed their opinions several times," she reports. "Publicly, we don’t give an opinion on politics. Especially not on social media."
"Everything as usual"
She has a point. At the Russian supermarket Kalinka, they don’t want to comment on politics. At the Russian store Dacha, the owner is eager to talk about delicacies: "Everything as usual," she flutes.
In the candlelit Zima bar, next to the famous Ronnie Scott jazz club, there are Russian drinks and pop music, but "you’re only the second person to want to talk politics with me, the first was also a journalist," says an employee. Katarina Klimov knows about Zima: "The place belongs to an oligarch close to the government. They certainly don’t say anything bad about Russia." The Russian world is divided into those who are loyal to the government and those who are not, and you can always tell by the way they express themselves.
Evgenia Terentieva doesn’t let on behind her curtains in the Russian music school Musika Nova on the corner of a social housing estate in the north. When the forty-something arrived here as an exchange student 25 years ago, her English host family asked if it was true that there were white bears running around everywhere in Russia and that there were Schwarzenegger types everywhere.
She has since obtained a British passport. "In the music world, nobody points at me and says anything because I’m Russian. Music has no borders." And yet those days of tension didn’t leave her unscathed. "I had to go to the Russian embassy," she reports. There, she says, were suddenly huge crowds of cameras and a large contingent of security. "That gave me a queasy feeling."
"Not black, not white, but in between".
The owner of the Real Russia travel agency in the north London borough of Islington feels unsettled. His travel agency is award-winning, and landscape paintings hang in the office. "When Russia annexed Crimea and the MH17 plane was shot down, we had a really tough year," reports 53-year-old Chris Watkins. Misunderstanding and ignorance prevailed on both sides, he finds.
"The world is not black or white, but in between," he philosophizes. January and February were actually extremely good months, with 20 percent more crowds, Watkins says. That’s when he looked ahead with confidence to the World Cup in Russia. That was before March 4.