What’s It Really Like Being Married To A Russian Billionaire? Just Ask Countess Alexandra Tolstoy.
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you were a billionaire or married to one? Countess Alexandra Tolstoy can tell you. Over a decade ago, she met and fell in love with the man of her dreams. He turned out to be a billionaire, a Russian oligarch and a friend of Vladimir Putin, Sergei Pugachev. Five years ago, Tolstoy, Pugachev and their three children lived a life of luxury in the Chelsea district of London. They had a personal assistant, two cleaning ladies, two drivers, an English nanny, a Russian nanny and a private French teacher.
Tolstoy was no stranger to privilege. As you may have guessed, she is a distant relative of the author Leon Tolstoy. She is a countess. She attended an elite boarding school and became a stockbroker in London. She did not like this job, so after a year she left and started a travel business exploring Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 1999, she was part of a team that spent eight months traveling the 5,000 miles of the Silk Road. She fell in love with one of the members of the support team, an Uzbek jumper named Shamil Galimzyanov.
In September 2003, Tolstoy and Galimzyanov were married at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London. After their marriage, they moved into a small apartment in Moscow. In Moscow, Tolstoy taught English to the families of several oligarchs. Tolstoy and her first husband were struggling to make ends meet. She met and befriended billionaire Sergei Pugachev after being hired to teach him English. In 2009, she divorced Galimzyanov shortly after the birth of her son Alexei. Pugachev turned out to be Alexei’s father.
Alexandra, Sergei and Alexei lived a life of luxury between Moscow, London, Paris and a seaside villa in the Caribbean. He gave her a credit card for shopping. She had a private jet at her disposal. Pugachev reached wealth in post-communist Russia. He owned one of the largest private banks in Russia, a coal mine, shipyards and designer brands. He and Putin were friends who vacationed together. He had the nickname “Putin’s banker” because of the loans he made to the Russian government.
However, Putin did not approve of Pugachev’s relationship with Alexandra Tolstoy. Then, in 2006, Russia passed a law authorizing its agents to kill enemies of the state abroad and to target Pugachev and his billions. The government faked the collapse of Pugachev’s Russian assets, including the bank. He fled Russia when he asked him to repay a billion dollar loan, otherwise they would kill his family.
As we now know, Russia has taken seriously its commitment to kill its enemies abroad. In the years Vladimir Poutine ruled Russia, the people who made billions during the first decade of Russian capitalism were systematically selected, one by one. They were imprisoned, prevented from entering the country, forced to cede their assets to the Kremlin (or simply to have them stolen by the government and its agents), and scary and darker and frightening scenarios that resulted in the loss fortunes, loss of career and even, occasionally, loss of life. In 2012 Alexander Perepilichny fell dead while jogging in Surrey. He had been poisoned. In 2013, Boris Berezovsky was found dead at his home in Ascot. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in Moscow. In 2015, Pugachev’s assets were frozen, his passport seized. Pougatchev fought the Russian government from his castle in France.
While Pugachev was hiding from the Russian government, Tolstoy believed that things were not safe for her or her children. He asked her to settle permanently in France with their children to live with the family. Alexandra did not want to. He hit her and locked her passport and their children’s passports in her safe so that they could not leave it. She feared he would kidnap their children. Her luxury life became a golden cage that she needed to escape. One day in spring 2016, she and her children left the castle abruptly and never returned. She was immediately cut off financially. Russia seized her family’s house and put it on the market. She was offered a contract to stay in the house for a year if she agreed to ask Pugachev no financial support. She had neither money nor a house.
Today, Pugachev lives alone in his French castle, a decision in which he was forced by the Russian government. His billions are gone. He is in his last 70 million dollars. He has not seen his children since 2016. He is still awaiting the results of his trial against Russia for the loss of his assets.
Alexandra and her children live in an Oxfordshire cottage. She has revived her activity as a travel agent / tourist guide and has led expeditions across Kyrgyzstan. She still makes regular trips to Russia. She started doing the things she loved again. She is no longer under the control of her ex-husband. She no longer fears for her life or fears that her children will be kidnapped by their father. She’s free. And she prefers that. Alexandra’s mother says that Sergei “brought everything with him”.