Moscow-on-Thames is Bigger than You Think

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The ultimate guide to the Russian investment into the economy, education and culture within the UK. The Russian community in the United Kingdom consists mainly of British citizens of Russian heritage as well Russian speaking expatriates and migrants from Russia who reside in the United Kingdom. Russians have lived in numbers in the United Kingdom since the 19th century and over time the influence of this expatriate group has grown to be significant on an internationally-known scale. Different classes of Russian expatriates have had a plethora of impacts on the UK economy and education system. This article focuses on the middle class Russians and their proportionally high influence both within the British economy and education system. focusing on the considerable influence of the super-wealthy Russians in London, a mix of Russian and ex-soviet oligarchs with a lot of property to their name within the UK. This analysis is completed with an insider perspective of the lives of Russian expatriates living within the United Kingdom and does not take into account perception surveys due to the significant fluctuations in opinions.

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Some alternative statistics suggest there is a higher number of Russians in the UK, and it is theorised this disparity may be the result of the unwillingness of some Russians to partake in ONS surveys.

This data is immediately eye-catching, as it suggests that a large majority of the Russians living in the UK are urban-dwellers, with less than 4,000 out of an estimated 66,000 Russians in the UK (~6%) living in rural areas. This can be linked with the fact that migrating to the UK from Russia requires people to be of middle class and above, as they have to be wealthy enough to afford to live in a much more expensive environment (namely – urban areas), as well as covering the cost of higher taxes (20-45% income tax rate the UK as compared to a flat 13% in the Russian Federation).

Russian opposition news channels estimate that over 10% of Russian expatriates in the UK have charges filed against them in Russia, which implies that a lot of people who have moved to the UK did so out of a desire to escape from Russian Federation, rather than a particular urge to move to the UK. Taking into account how the urban-rural division in Russia is 74-26, the fact that this turns into 94-6 in the UK further confirms how the migrating masses are predominantly the aforementioned urban middle class and other, wealthier individuals.

The disparity shown above in the rural Russian population in the UK shows that even though over 47% of them still live in Rural towns and on the fringes of said towns, there is reasonable ground to suspect that the 22% living in Rural hamlets and isolated dwellings are in fact the ultra-rich wishing to avoid attention.

An older UK Census from 2001 recorded just 15,160 responses from residents in the UK ostensibly born in Russia, however a similar ONS survey in 2011 found that the number of Russian residents just in London had risen by more than 400%, reaching 66,000 in 2011. In turn, this rise led the British public to coining the terms “Londongrad” and “Moscow-on-the-Thames” to describe this demographic change. Now, in 2018, in London and the South East, there are many Russian schools aimed at transmitting Russian language and culture to the children of Russian immigrant parents with over 18 specialised schools for Russian expatriates just within the confines of the capital, suggesting relatively high demand. At the same time, taking into consideration how many Russians will have also came to the UK from the Baltic States, after they joined the EU in 2004, population estimates could be higher. Consequently, additionally acknowledging older generation migrants from ex-Soviet countries, top-level estimates suggest the number of people of Russian descent may be even higher.

As can be seen above, not only specialised Russian-community focused forums, but also intra-national forums exist, binding together the Russian expatriate community in London, with the internet serving as a platform for a significant increase in the soft power influence of this minority group within the UK.

The presence of middle/ upper-class Russians in the more well-off districts of London has had a direct impact on improving education, as well as expanding the cultural diversity of local Russian population and to enhance local’s knowledge of traditional cultural Russian values.

This has also led to the development and growth of Russian meetup communities, which host social gatherings for Russians and/or Russian-born populace living in the UK.

Groups such as ‘Russians in London’ organise, social gatherings, concerts hosted by famous Russian pop-artists, invite lecturers from leading Russian universities to perform in the UK as well as provide assistance to newly-arrived in settling in London.

And these are just two of the many famous groups of this kind. As can be seen the amount of such groups is in abundance, which is a clear sign of the outgoing personality of the Russian community in London, which has taken significant steps towards providing facilities and opportunities for expatriates to live in conditions which are comfortable and not too foreign for them, thousands of km from their home cities.

Some specialised communities have also arisen such as Ru-Eng Speakers Toastmasters, propagating particularly food-related activities, such as wine tasting, visiting the niche Russian shops around London, dining in fine East-European Restaurants etc. This is yet another example of how the more pro-active members of Eastern European/Russian community in the UK tend to be those of more refined taste and who are off higher-than-average wealth.

Others, such as this, whilst are businesses, in theory, operate as communities by focusing their target audience only on Eastern Europeans and Russians. For example, this, a school of Women’s Arts, is aimed at promoting female self-identity in London for Russian Women who have moved to London. The fact that this website has been created in 2015 indicates that migration period is still very much ongoing of Russians continuing to come to Russia each year.

A tech-event organisation, which in part organised computer-related lectures as well as organises festive events from famous Russian celebrities, such as Russian academics, actors and authors to singers and performers, who go on to visit London on tour. This in turn has been characterised by a surprisingly high amount of Russian-speaking events in London, such as the 32 Russian lectures by leading faces across the last 3 years. Even then, concerts by lesser known actors, without an internatinal reputation but who are popular in Russia have been known to occur at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, Hammersmith and the O2 Arena, filling a full hall of Russian expatriates – thus showcasing the large amount of native-born Russians and Russian speakers within the UK.

This is a distinctly modern club, created also to facilitate ‘self-identity’ in the form of arts. This club is aimed primarily at Russians living in the UK and as such its events are all conducted only in Russian and often in areas where there is already present a moderately sized Russian community. Events are even tailored to cultural beliefs of Russians, so as not offend the more religious expatriate population.

That said, the actual period during which the most Russians have been migrating to the UK can probably be said to have been between 2000-2012. Local and foreign media was notably proactive in describing this movement, with over 100 articles published on Russian migration to the UK across that 12-year period.

The Independent Schools Council estimated last year 2,150 Russian pupils were boarding in Britain, paying fees averaging £27,600 a year.

The sustained rise in the number of Russian pupils consistently over the last 5 years has led to the expansion of the British Council’s “Study UK: Discover UK” Exhibition 2017, a promotion campaign led in Russia’s two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, promoting education in the UK to Russian students. The expansion of said tertiary-education advertisement campaign is likely related to the high financial gain of recruiting Russian students. While in part this is due to Russia’s wealthy ‘elite’ class of society, capable of paying more than other parents, additionally this is explained by the fact that Russia is not in the EU, meaning that university education costs average over £27,000 a year. Even though this is a significant cost, especially considering average salaries in Moscow lie at £760.25 per month (as of Early-September 2017), due to the high disparity in income inequality in Russia, there is consistent high demand for such education from the wealthy classes.

As a result of increased Russian activity within the British education system, this has, in turn, contributed to a sustained number of Russian GCSE and A-level exams taken both by the expatriate Russian youth and from those willing to work with the new Russian community over the last few years, even as other languages have seen less interest from students in the UK. Amid the 10% and 13.2% drop in the number of students taking French and German GCSE respectively, following Brexit, this is yet further proof of how interest in Russian business and Russian communities remains strong.

Russian consumption of domestically produced UK goods and services in, London, has been very significant on an annual basis. Taking 2012 as an example, around 227,000 Russians visited Britain in 2012, spending a total of £240 million — topping the charts for foreign shoppers with the average transactions at £676.

In 1992, only one Russian was granted British citizenship, but in 2002 the number was 806. By 2010, the Russian embassy stated more than 40,000 live at least part-time in London.

The biggest wave began in 2012 when more political instability in Russia started, and that also coincided with a worsening economy there.

The response to Russian real estate consumption from an official statement by the Knight Frank real estate agency suggests a level of understanding between Russian immigrant community from wealthy-circles moving to the UK and the local services providers.

“We treat Russians particularly respectfully because they are always serious. When they like a place, they buy it and show no trace of what we call ‘buyer remorse’ – they don’t look at other houses to compare them with the one they like or worry about whether they’ve done the right thing.

“Best of all, they don’t try to negotiate a lower price,” he says. “And they don’t come with briefcases packed with dollars, as some people like to suggest. They’re sophisticated people”.

A study by a Russo-British real estate consulting firm, LonGrad shows that “The biggest wave of Russian migrants began in late 2012”.

This finding can almost certainly be linked with the political events at the time. Following Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, political instability and an increase in political assassinations increased involvement in Syria, a noticeable trend emerged of wealthy Russian elites moving away from Russia under the premise of long-term tourism. Moreover, this coincided with a worsening economy in the Russian Federation as the rouble’s erratic inflation increased exponentially due to market forces responding to the political crisis at the time.

This brings us to the conclusion that there are a number of Russian communities in London and they field considerable soft power influence, contributing to the assimilation of new Russian migrants to the UK even as many influence affairs in the UK, working hand in hand with Russia’s international influence-department ‘Rossotrudnichestvo’ towards promoting Russian culture abroad and supporting Russians in London.

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