Vladimir Putin could 'shatter' NATO will over Ukraine conflict
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Putin began his full-scale invasion of Ukraine four weeks ago in what has since transformed into a conflict killing more than 1,000 civilians, according to the UN. Estimates of the number of Russian casualties wildly vary, with the Kremlin claiming in early March that around 500 troops had been killed compared to Ukraine’s claims that Russia’s total death toll now exceeds 15,000. Responding to the conflict, the UK, US, EU and other nations have hit Russian entities and individuals with crippling economic sanctions.
In a video address this week, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy told NATO leaders that the sanctions were a “little late” and that Russia would not have started a war if they had been imposed earlier.
Many of the sanctions have come against Russian oligarchs who have alleged links to Putin and the Russian state.
In the days following Russia’s invasion, Putin assembled the country’s crop of powerful billionaires for a meeting at the Kremlin.
The Russian President is said to have taken a tough line with the businessmen during the talks, reportedly ordering them to continue trading with companies sanctioned by the West or face reprisals under Russian law.
One oligarch who was not at the meeting was Sergei Pugachev, the exiled billionaire once dubbed the “Kremlin’s banker” but who was brutally cut adrift from Putin’s inner circle a decade ago.
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The former Russian senator, who lives in France, was and continues to be hunted by the Kremlin after his bank Mezhprombank went bust, owing hundreds of millions of pounds.
Sergei, who previously owned huge chunks of Russian infrastructure, has children from his relationship with British-born Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, who hails from a long line of Russian nobility.
Putin was reportedly completely against his ally becoming romantically involved with Alexandra and branded the oligarch a “traitor” when they became an item.
The claim was made in ‘The Countess and the Russian Billionaire’, the 2020 Netflix documentary that explored Sergei and Alexandra’s life together, and how they have been pursued by the Russian state ever since.
Speaking during the documentary, Alexandra said: “There is a law in Russia that says a senator cannot marry a foreigner.
“Sergei said that many of these problems that we have with the Russian government and Putin are because he is with me.
“And Putin himself has said to Sergei at some point, ‘You are a traitor, why are you with this English person?’.”
In the documentary, Sergei gave his own account of the Russian President’s take on his love affair, and claimed: “Mr Putin, he was really surprised because, ‘Why English? It is so strange’.
“I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘There are 140 million people in Russia’.
“I said, ‘Yeah but she lives in London, unfortunately. Or fortunately’.
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“He said, ‘No, it is so strange. It is a crazy idea.”
The couple met in Moscow around 2008 where Alexandra taught English to the families of several oligarchs.
Despite Putin’s opposition to their relationship, they experienced a whirlwind romance and had two children together.
The pair lived a life of luxury, jetting between Paris, London and Moscow with their young family.
However, after being cut off by the Kremlin following the collapse of his bank, Sergei was hunted by Russian state debt collectors.
In 2016 he was sentenced to two years in prison at the high court in London after being found guilty of contempt of court.
The previous year he had fled permanently to France from the UK, where he claimed there was a plot to kill him.
‘The Countess and the Russian Billionaire’ is available on Netflix.
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