Alexandra Tolstoy-Miloslavsky is a countess who loved and lost a Russian billionaire. She is a woman who would not let the hard times keep her down, but saw adversity as an opportunity to reach beyond herself.
Alexandra is an equine adventurer, broadcaster, socialite and businesswoman. She has provided material for television documentaries, books and talks, including details of her 8,000 km trek along the Silk Road.
Alexandria comes from a long line of Russian aristocracy, inheriting her title from her great-great-grandfather, who was chamberlain to the last emperor, Tsar Nicholas.
Alexandra came from an English country home in Oxfordshire. Her father, Count Nicholai Tolstoy, author and historian, was a distant cousin from the War and Peace author Leo Tolstoi. The family inherited Russian titles.
Alexandra always enjoyed adventure over security, preferring the challenge of boarding school life, rather than the education her parents wanted for her. Alexandra was hungry for the thrill of the adrenalin rush and the excitement of new adventures.
After school, she embarked on a decade of Russian adventures, including riding horseback through Mongolia. She lived for months at a time with no connection to the outside world.
Then came love with a penniless Cossack, a relationship that was definitely not what her parents wanted for her. They were one of the most unlikely of couples. Alexandra and her Cossack met on the Silk Road, were married, and lived in a tiny flat in Uzbekistan. It was a world away from Alexandra’s privileged upbringing.
The marriage was soon in trouble and quickly ended. Then Alexandra met her knight in shining armour. The English beauty and the Russian billionaire was like a fairytale and it was love at first sight, despite the danger of falling for a Russian oligarch. Alexandra said when she met Sergei it was ‘electric’. It was something every girl dreams of, but few experience. Alexandra was unaware that she was entering the turbulent world of abusive behaviour. A world of wild emotions that would shoot between raw anger and fervent passion.
Billionaire Sergei Pugachev
Alexandra was employed to assist the Sergei Pugachev and improve his English. She found herself in a man’s world. Sergei was a close friend and adviser of Putin. Sergei was separated from his first wife, but not divorced.
The billionaire had made his fortune in Communist China. He owned two major shipyards, the world’s biggest mine and large chunks of real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as the Mezhprombank.
Sergei helped Putin in his meteoric rise as head of all Russia. Though an aristocrat in her own right, it was a world, that in Alexandra’s wildest dreams, never thought she would be part of.
Life with Sergei
The law said Sergei could not marry a foreigner and Putin strongly disapproved of the English beauty. Alexandra gave birth to a son within a year of living with Sergei and a second child was on the way. This was despite their lavish globe-trotting lifestyle between their homes in Moscow, London and Paris, plus owning an array of other properties. The couple had a $40 million beachfront villa in the Caribbean.
Sergei made Alexandra feel incredibly protected, despite the signals of abuse their relationship. Wrapped in the swaddling clothes of luxury, it was almost surreal, living with one of the world’s richest men. Mixing in the shrouded world of Russian high-society had become an everyday event.
Putin Turned on Sergei
Sergei had created a successful $15 billion dollar business in Russia. In 2008, Sergei’s bank got into trouble and the Russia state bailed it out with a billion-dollar loan. Two years later, the bank went under, with no sign of the billion dollars. Alexander believes it was Sergie’s partner who was the business brain and Sergei merely the ‘power broker’.
Putin not only turned Sergei, but on all those who had been his Russian oligarch allies. The richest man in Russia hit back at Putin and was imprisoned.
For Sergei the nightmare continued. He claimed he had sold the bank many years earlier, but the Russian hierarchy refused to accept this. Sergei was found liable for the bank’s losses and fled Russia. Like a Mafia State, guilty or not the Russian authorities got whatever they wanted.
Permanent Exile for the Oligarch
Sergei fled to his chateau in Nice, the most luxurious of hideaways. Russian DIA demanded payment of $350 million, which Sergei refused to pay. Enemies of the Russian state began to be killed and not just in Russia. Some said, “The Russian government kills people if it can’t get to them any other way. “
In 2015, Sergei became a permanent exile, dividing his time between France and London. Russia’s DIA used the British court to try to get to Sergei. His passports were ceased, shipyards, factories, and hotels seized, and assets frozen worldwide. The family were followed and harassed, with hidden trackers placed on their cars.
On Putin’s Kill List
Putin made a new law that Russian agents could kill enemies of the state, no matter where they were in the world. Sergei knew he was in the top three on Putin’s kill list. With help of some powerful friends Sergei secretly left Britain. He remained in hiding in his chateau in Nice, while Alexandra and the children remained in London.
Sergei, in a mind blowing first, sued the Russian state for $12 billion, while Russia accused Sergei of stealing 64 billion rubles from the bank. Alexandra was still in love with Sergei and flew to Paris to back Sergei. He successfully registered his claim against the Russian federation for damages of over US$10 billion.
Countess Loved and Lost a Russian Billionaire
Countess Alexandra soon realized she had loved and lot a Russian Billionaire. In 2015, three police officers arrived late at night at their London home looking for Sergei. Alexandra knew “It was a matter of intimidation.”
Alexandra took the three children and fled Britain, hoping things would get better. The British High Court sentenced Sergei to two years’ imprisonment for leaving the country without permission, so Britain was no longer a haven for the oligarch.
Sergei never made it to the secret location where Alexandra and the children were, but they visited him in the chateau in France. They couldn’t move from the confines of the Chateau, and Alexandra knew it was a too isolated way of living to be permanent for her and the children. This placed a lot of stress on the marriage relationship.
Abusive Russian Billionaire
On a visit to the chateau in 2016, Sergei exploded. He locked the children in their room and locked Alexandra’s passport in his safe. He took her phone and smashed it. Alexandra fled the chateau with the children and returned to England.
Not only had the countess lost the Russian billionaire, her life and the life of her children were under threat. At first Sergei claimed they had left because the children needed to go to school. Later, he claimed the mother of his children had stolen them.
Alexandra never returned to the chateau. She said the abuse was psychological as much as it was physical. “Sergei was a man who knew how to apply pressure and scare a person. It was like living in a prison.” Another princess used similar words, when Grace Kelly said life behind the palace walls was like living in a golden cage.
Countess Loved and Lost Twice Over
Over the next two years, the death toll continued to rise for enemies of the Russian state. Relations between Russia and Britain reach a new low, with death of Russians on English soil. By 2018, 40 Russians, who had fallen foul of the Kremlin, met untimely deaths.
Alexandra, in London, knew she had loved and lost twice over, as she lived in fear from both the Russian State and Sergei. She was paranoid, believing Sergei was having her spied on, hellbent on revenge, because she wouldn’t take the children and move to France.
Sergei was consumed with his multi-billion lawsuit against the Russian Federation. He knew many people wanted him dead just as they had killed other Russian oligarchs. But, he never gave up on Alexandra, though he cut her off financially and wrote her abusive emails. He wanted her to become financially desperate and would then return to him.
Alexandra went to the family court and sued for maintenance. The family home was put on the market and Sergei was convinced Alexandra was working with the Russians, who he said had corrupted her.
A Live Televised Trap
Alexandra was approached by Putin-owned Russian television to tell her story. She was paid a five-figure sum for her appearance. The program invited celebrity guests to appear before a studio audience and a panel would pick over the celebrities’ personal life then pass judgement.
Alexandra did not realize she was walking into a trap. Sergei was speaking live from France. He claimed Alexandra wasn’t any kind of countess and only wanted to get rich. He also claimed she was an exhibitionist.
Alexandra believes Sergei spun a false narrative to malign her and distract from his own culpability for the disastrous failure of his business interests. “Narcissists produce narratives that are literally just complete lies, but I think they end up half-believing them.”
The fairy tale was over. The countess who had loved and lost had to survive on her own and rediscover herself. Alexander admits Sergie had made her dependent on him as she didn’t really fit into the glossy ‘Russian oligarch’s wife/girlfriend’ mould. “It is difficult to be creative and represent oneself in a society where value and status is projected through designer clothes, modern houses and jet-setting.”
The countess who had loved and lost found ways to support herself. She wrote and revived her old travel business. The Russian government said she could stay in the family home for as long as it remained unsold.
Sergei’s case reached the international court. He won, but whether he would see the money was a different story. He was down to his last $70 million. He lived alone in his luxurious French chateau, still believing the family would one day return to him.
Alexandra returned to her old life of leading horse-riding expeditions across Uzbekistan and made regular trips to Russia. Then came COVID and the travel business was forced to close. Alexandra had cast off the oligarch lifestyle and all that went with it. Looking back, she realized it was a vulgar lifestyle.
Reflecting on their marriage, and his moments of physical violence and control over her, she says, “There were signs there,” but she “just didn’t know how to read or understand them.” Many women feel the same way and are shocked when they finally discover the truth about abuse.
Alexandra admits she had become lost in the life of private jets and no-limit shopping. She now prefers a simpler way of life for herself and her children.
Countess who Loved and Lost Evicted
Then, in 2020, Alexandra was given two weeks’ notice by the Russian government to vacate the £12 million west London family mansion, which Russia repossessed.
After living out of suitcases for the summer she auctioned off her furniture, rented a home in Battersea and launched the Tolstoy Edit. She sells antiques and vintage textiles and rugs, of which she is the curator.
She urges people not to “Politicize Russian culture, heritage and her wonderful people, many of whom are bravely opposing the war in Ukraine at great personal risk.” Alexandra loved and lost but she is not out and down for the count. She refused to be bound by society’s limitations on women.
Other women have found themselves thrust into the world of high-society but not had the means to escape, such as Princess Grace Kelly. Alexandra teaches us, as women, not to be afraid to aim for the moon, hoping to reach the mountain tops.