Peter the Great statue, Vladimir Putin’s gift to Londoners, damaged in attempted robbery

A statue of Peter the Great in Deptford, south London, that Vladimir Putin’s government gifted to the UK has been damaged in an attempted robbery, leaving a diplomatically awkward repair bill of thousands of pounds.

Millennium Quay, the owners of the Thames-side housing estatethat surrounds the statue, suggested the Russian embassy could pick up the tab. The embassy has not responded to requests for comment.

UK relations with Russia and its leader have deteriorated sharply in the years since Putin sailed down the Thames in 2003 to visit the statue, accompanied by the Duke of York,. The Kremlin has deleted a press release about the visit but it is still available on a web archive.

Putin hails Peter the Great as a national hero for establishing Russia as a European power, and keeps a bronze statue of him in his cabinet room.

The Deptford statue of Peter, by Mihail Chemiakin, one of Putin’s favourite artists, commemorates the young tsar’s 1698 trip to Deptford to study English shipbuilding.

Peter was allowed to stay at a house belonging to the writer John Evelyn, who complained that Peter wrecked his property and garden, leaving a huge repair bill. Evelyn’s steward described Peter’s entourage as “right nasty”.

Now it is damage to Peter’s statue that has left a nasty bill that no one appears willing to pay.

Joel Coleman, Millennium Quay’s property manager, said: “We can get it restored if we can find out who owns it. In the last resort I’ll call the Russians. As it was a gift from the Russian people, we can see if the Russian embassy will pay for it.”

Greenwich council said the statue was the responsibility of the developer, Fairview Homes, which owns the section of the Thames path where the statue stands. It has refused to comment.

Meanwhile, the statue has been partly boarded up and fenced off, in what many passersby assumed was an attempt to protect it from political vandalism.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the statue had been decorated with a Ukrainian flag and ribbons in Ukrainian colours. One local resident threatened to paint it blue and yellow, according to Coleman.

But the damage to the statue, which occurred over the Easter weekend, is not thought to be politically motivated. CCTV images of the incident showed two hooded men taking an angle grinder to a marble balustrade on the statue, according to Coleman. They were also filmed trying to lift off a squat caricature in bronze of Evelyn that flanks the larger sculpture of Peter.

A police investigation was closed because the suspects could not be identified. “Unfortunately, they had hoods and masks on, so there was no facial recognition,” Coleman said.

He added: “People have been saying it is related to Ukraine but it wasn’t, it was blatant robbery. I watched hours of it on CCTV. They tried to steal the granite balustrade, and rip off the little man [Evelyn]. I imagine the cost will run into thousands.”

Asked if the statue should come down, Coleman said: “I don’t see anything wrong with Peter the Great. He was a good man in many respects. He modernised Russia, he built lots of things. We can’t deny history.”

He added: “I didn’t take offence to the odd Ukrainian flag on the statue. But there were a couple of people who don’t live on the estate who said they going to paint it blue and yellow. I would have a problem with that.”

Coleman was working on the estate during Putin’s visit in 2003. He said: “The worst thing about that was the Russian naval band practising the national anthems every morning. They couldn’t even get their own anthem right, let alone God Save the Queen.”

A plaque on the statue says: “The monument is a gift from the Russian people and commemorates the visit of Peter the Great to this country in search of knowledge and experience.”

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