We visited Russia’s opulent UK embassy at the height of a diplomatic crisis — here’s what it was like

Russia's embassy in Kensington, London.

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Russia’s embassy in Kensington, London.
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Simon Dawson/Reuters

Britain and Russia are in the middle of their most intense diplomatic crisis since the Cold War over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury earlier this month.

Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK earlier week, prompting a reciprocal action from Moscow. Despite losing about 30% of its staff, though, activity in the embassy still seemed like business as usual.

Business Insider attended a press conference on Thursday with Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, and was given access to most – but not all – of the opulent building.

Scroll down to take a look inside.


The Russian embassy is one of many on Kensington Palace Gardens in west London, known locally as “Embassy Row.” It’s the personal residence of Russia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko.

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Russia’s ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko gives a press conference at the embassy.
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Simon Dawson/Reuters

The embassy recently lost about 30% of its staff as Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK over the Skripal case. There used to be 78 Russian officials; now there are 55. Here they are going home:

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Toby Melville/Reuters

Kensington Palace Gardens is home to embassies of other countries, including Saudi Arabia, France, and Nepal. Billionaires such as Roman Abramovich, Leonard Blavatnik, and Lakshmi Mittal all had houses here as of 2014. The average house here costs £35.7 million.

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18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens. It’s not clear who owns or lives here.
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Malkalior/Wikimedia Commons

Source: The Guardian

Read more: The 9 most expensive streets in the UK, where you need more than £11 million to buy a house


The street is also a stone’s throw away from Kensington Palace, where Princes William and Harry, Kate Middleton, and Meghan Markle all live.

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Practically neighbours.
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Google Maps/Business Insider

Unsurprisingly, security is really tight here. There were at least three heavily armed policemen by the entrance, who warned that we couldn’t take photos of the secluded street.

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The entrance of Kensington Palace Gardens.
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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

As a result, the street is very quiet. However, any pedestrian can walk inside it, though, and we saw at least five people either strolling or jogging through the street.

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Kensington Palace Gardens in June 2011.
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Oli Scarff/Getty

The Russian embassy is at number 13. There’s a metal detector at the gate to the embassy, where our bags and accreditation are checked by two officials who speak to each other in Russian. We enter through the front door pictured here.

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The Russian embassy on March 22, as taken by Reuters. This was the view from the metal detector.
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Simon Dawson/Reuters

Upon entering the embassy we are confronted by another metal detector in the foyer. It’s not being used, though, likely because we’ve already been checked outside. Next to the metal detector is a window looking into a room containing some security controls and one worker. It all looks a bit dim because the furniture is dark in colour and many curtains are drawn.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

On the other side of the room is a (slightly cracked) mirror, a book, and some flowers. A familiar face peers out from a framed photo…

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

… a signed picture of a (younger) Vladimir Putin.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

The foyer leads into a grand, red-carpeted reception room.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

As we stroll around, two Russian aides standing nearby suggest that we leave our things in their cloakroom. The makeshift cloakroom is in a salon, with our coats kept behind a divider trying to look like bookcases. Another Russian-speaking worker takes our coats.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

In the grand reception room there’s a big staircase leading up to a second floor (where we’re not allowed to go). There’s a mural of the Kremlin in Moscow, with small framed paintings on each side of it — a religious icon depicting Christ on the left, and St. George and the Dragon on the right. At the bottom of the staircase is also a painting of a woman riding a white horse.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

At the bottom of the staircase is another hallway with the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms, and another small office with a few wooden desks that we were told by an embassy worker not to enter. This vase is on display in the hallway.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

However, we got to check out the ladies’ bathroom, which was… surprisingly beautiful.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

It almost looks like a spa.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

Still and sparkling water from springs in Hildon, southern England, is prepared. Nobody drinks it. There are napkins in the colours of the Russian flag — white, blue, and red.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

On display in front of the fireplace is a branded football on a pedestal, celebrating the fact that the 2018 World Cup is being held in Russia.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

See more: Boris Johnson says Putin hosting the World Cup is like Hitler hosting the 1936 Olympics


Here’s a closer look.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

Here’s another room divider trying to look like a bookcase. We weren’t allowed past.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

Now, for the final stop of the tour — the press conference room. It’s massive, and scattered with oil paintings, crystal chandeliers, and fine china.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

Next to the ambassador’s podium is a TV screen with Tweetdeck, a Twitter dashboard, open. The columns show real-time updates from the Twitter accounts of the Russian embassy in the UK, ambassador, and foreign ministry.

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Alexandra Ma/Business Insider

At least four officials are in the room — some handling equipment, some guarding an entrance to a back room, and others just watching the ambassador’s speech. Some of them nod vigorously at his remarks during the conference. Here’s Ambassador Yakovenko.

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Simon Dawson/Reuters

At this point we’ve seen at least ten officials on the ground floor alone, either helping out with the press conference or guarding various entrances to other rooms. Despite the recent staff expulsions, everything still seemed to be business as normal.

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Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko leaves after the March 22 news conference.
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Simon Dawson/Reuters