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Gregory Rasputin features in Russian history as a malign and destructive force, a man with an unhealthy influence on the Empress Alexandra and undue power in Russian politics. Yet his purposes were ostensibly beneficent. An uneducated peasant, he left Siberia to become a wandering 'holy man' and soon acquired a reputation as a healer. The empress was desperate to find a cure for haemophilia from which her son Alexei suffered, and in 1905 Rasputin was presented at court. His positive effect on the heir's health made him indispensible. But his religious teachings were unorthodox, and his charismatic presence aroused in many ladies of the St Petersburg aristocracy an exalted response, which he exploited sexually. Shady financial dealings added to the atmosphere of debauchery and scandal, and he was also seen as a political threat. He was assassinated bin 1916.

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