Protesters occupy oligarch’s London mansion: How the anger against Russia is spreading to the UK

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People across the world, including within Russia, have been protesting against Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine since the conflict began on 24 February.

On Monday, these protests took a different turn in United Kingdom when a handful of people seized a mansion linked to a sanctioned Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, in one of central London's most exclusive addresses.

Banners were unfurled from the property at 5 Belgrave Square, including one stating "This property has been liberated", alongside the Ukrainian flag.

The protest came to an end only after the police intervened and four of the people involved in the protest were arrested.

We take a look at who the sanctioned Russian oligarch is and what exactly happened in central London on Monday.

Who is Oleg Deripaska?

Oleg Deripaska is one of the several oligarchs sanctioned by the British government following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Deripaska is the founder of Basic Element, one of Russia's largest industrial groups and till 2018, he was also the president of En+ Group, a Russian energy company, and also headed United Company Rusal, the second-largest aluminium company in the world.

Oleg Deripaska, the 54-year-old metal magnate, is believed to be Vladimir Putin’s favourite industrialist. AFP

He is believed to be Vladimir Putin’s favourite industrialist, which is why he has found himself on the list of individuals hit with sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine.

A report in The Guardian has said that the 54-year-old has previously come under scrutiny for his UK political links, too. That row erupted when Peter Mandelson, then UK's trade secretary, had been entertained aboard the oligarch’s superyacht in 2008.

Also read: Russia-Ukraine conflict: What you need to know about the powerful oligarchs and the sanctions on them

In 2018, he was sanctioned by the United States, which noted that the oligarch “does not separate himself from the Russian state”.

Deripaska broke ranks with the other oligarchs of Russia and called for an end to Russia's war in Ukraine on 1 March. "Peace is very important! Negotiations need to start as soon as possible!" Deripaska said in a post on Telegram.

Squatting at Deripaska’s mansion

On Monday, all eyes turned towards property in Belgrave Square — one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, located just moments from Buckingham Palace — when squatters occupied the mansion.

The protesters draped it with Ukrainian flags and a sign saying “this property has been liberated.”

The squatters call themselves the London Mahknovists — after Nestor Makhno, who led an anarchist force that attempted to form a stateless society in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution of 1917-1923.

News agency Reuters reported the protesters as saying, "By occupying this mansion, we want to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but also the people of Russia who never agreed to this madness."

"You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you," they said.

A group of squatters display banners and a Ukrainian national flag on the facade of a mansion supposedly belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in Belgrave Square, central London. AFP

Standing on the balcony, one of the protesters, according to a BBC report said they were doing the government's work for them by reclaiming the building for refugees fleeing their homes.

He was quoted as saying: "{Home secretary} Priti Patel, don't worry, we did your job — we did the housing, just send them here, we did the housing. Refugees welcome!

"We're demanding this property belong to Ukrainian refugees. Their houses have been destroyed and this guy {Deripaska} supported the war."

The Metropolitan Police quickly arrived and set up a cordon following which they used a drill to break open the front door and used a crane to access the balcony.

Police said later four protesters who gained entry to the building's balcony "have come down and been arrested".

Police said the protest was over but they would maintain a presence.

Following the incident, Sky News reported that the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska said he didn't own the central London mansion and a spokesman for the billionaire said the property belongs to family members and not him.

It remains unclear who owns the multimillion-pound property. While high court documents name Deripaska as the owner, public records show the mansion was originally purchased and is currently held by Ravellot Limited, an offshore company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

With inputs from agencies

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Protesters occupy oligarch’s London mansion: How the anger against Russia is spreading to the UK
Protesters occupy oligarch’s London mansion: How the anger against Russia is spreading to the UK
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