Deep business links underpin tense UK-Russia relationship


London (AFP)

Russian billions have been flowing into London ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago -- from the London Stock Exchange to Chelsea's football stadium.

Wealthy Russians now own homes in some of the city's most exclusive areas, their children attend elite private schools and top Russian companies are listed in the City of London.

Amid a spiralling diplomatic crisis between Britain and Russia over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, there have been calls in Britain for sanctions that would hurt this super-rich elite with sometimes dubious sources of wealth.

Prime Minister Theresa May has so far held back on financial sanctions, promising only that she would freeze Russian state assets "wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents".

UK-Russia economic ties have continued to thrive despite the 2014 introduction of Western economic sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukrainian crisis.

Here is an overview:

- Around 600 British companies operate in Russia, according to the website of the Russian Embassy in London, making it one of the top ten investors in the country.

Many Russian companies are also active in Britain, with 60 listed on the London Stock Exchange, a key international platform for accessing foreign capital.

These include heavyweights such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Sberbank, Evraz and X5 Retail Group.

Finance, energy, metallurgy, mineral resources, transport, communications and pharmaceuticals are among the main sectors of bilateral trade.

- In the oil sector, British major BP holds a 19.75 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft, making it the second largest shareholder behind the Russian state.

BP Managing Director Bob Dudley sits on the Rosneft board and the two groups are collaborating on various projects, including in northern Russia.

Anglo-Dutch firm Shell is also working with Gazprom on the Russian Nord Stream gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

- Billionaire Oleg Deripaska floated EN+, his energy and aluminum company, on the London Stock Exchange in November 2017.

It was the first Russian firm to do so since the 2014 sanctions that quelled investor appetite for Russian assets.

Russian companies had flocked to London's financial market during the 2000s, a period of strong growth for the Russian economy.

Greg Barker, who was energy minister under prime minister David Cameron, chairs En+'s board of directors.

- Russian and British interests also align on the football pitch, with Russian money behind many Premier League clubs, especially in London.

Russian steel magnate Alisher Usmanov is a minority shareholder in Arsenal, owned by American Stan Kroenke, while Chelsea is owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Manchester United counts Russian airline Aeroflot among its main sponsors.