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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and British Liberal Democratic chief Nick Clegg are shown in a photo combination.

The Canadian Press and Reuters

They are political leaders on different sides of the Atlantic who share more than just family ties to old Russia. Nick Clegg, the British Liberal Democrats Leader whose party is surging in the polls, and Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, are cousins.

Both men descend from Russia's old Tsarist nobility. Their families fled to the West after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Barred from their former homeland for class and political reasons for nearly a century, they share a history, which includes a branch of their family trees.

Mr. Clegg, 43, has led the Liberal Democrats to a strong showing in opinion polls in the lead-up to Britain's national vote on May 6 following stellar performances in two party leaders' debates.

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His paternal grandmother, the Russian-born Baroness Kira von Engelhardt, is the first cousin of Alla Vladimirovna Ionova, who married Count Leonid Alexeievitch Ignatiev - the first cousin of Mr. Ignatieff's father. The children of the two are cousins to both leaders.







As with Mr. Ignatieff's forebears, one of whom - his grandfather Count Paul Ignatieff - served as the Tsar's last minister of education (1915-1917), politics has been part of Mr. Clegg's Russian family. His Russian grandmother, Kira, died aged 96 in 2005, two years before he became Liberal Democrat Leader, and still recently enough for him to recall with clarity the proud legacy she passed on to him.

Her mother, Alexandra, was one of the three daughters of Ignatiy Platonovich Zakrevsky, a 19th-century judicial activist. A political liberal, he was dismissed in 1898 by Tsar Nicholas II as senator in charge of the Russian Empire's highest court for writing to the London Times, among others, decrying the unjust proceedings of the French legal system in the infamous trials of French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus.

Come May 6, a close three-way election result could make Mr. Clegg a major powerbroker between the incumbent Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and their traditional rivals, the Conservatives.

If he needs advice on navigating the balance of power, perhaps he will call up his kinsman.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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