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After the 1917 Revolution, all Princess Vera's family estates were seized by the authorities. Her family fled Russia disguised as peasants, and went to Paris, where the she was born and raised.

Only after the fall of Communism did she come back to live in St Petersburg and she is now seeking to get part of that property back.

The home she claims is hers is next to the Peter and Paul Fortress, which is famed for the role it had in the founding of the city. It has a direct view, across the water, of the Winter Palace.

"This whole proposal is a complete shame and disgrace. Of course we can't all have all our properties back, but one of the houses that my family once owned would be enough."

Não que os novos boiardos sejam melhores -

But he added that he believed the buildings will go to those with most money or political influence. This speculation has recently been fuelled by reports surrounding two former palaces on the "English Embankment" which runs along the South Bank.

One is Tenisheva's Palace, the St Petersburg HQ of Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich. Mr Abramovich acquired the property in 2002 in his capacity as governor of the Chakotka region.

Further down the Embankment is a building belonging to energy Lukoil, which may well soon acquire the right to buy it. Both Lukoil and the governor's office have, in the past, denied any impropriety.

But political analyst Igor Leshukov, of the St Petersburg Institute of International Affairs, told Assignment he believes the best stately homes for sale will go to those with the strongest links to government. He also fears few properties will be properly restored.

"The main danger is many old and historic buildings will be simply destroyed and replaced by newly-done fakes," he said.

"The Hotel Europe is one of the masterpieces of Art Nouveau in St Petersburg - now we have just a facade, inside all the interior's been lost.

"The same situation is in the Hotel Astoria. So in that case, we can easily see what could happen in any palace owned by a private company and used as their luxury office."

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