Putin’s Crimean Gamble
If history is any judge, transforming Crimea into a Russian Las Vegas is an idea that is unlikely to work, writes Galina Stolyarova.
Published: April 30, 2014 (Issue # 1808)
While Russia faces intense international pressure over the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin appears calm. Not only is the president adamant about the legal basis for the occupation, he is also vigorously pushing forward with ambitious commercial plans for the newly seized territory.
The formula the Kremlin has hit upon for invigorating the Crimean economy sounds like a Freudian slip. The peninsula that became the object of a dangerous political gamble — and an armed takeover — is now being touted as Russia’s answer to Monte Carlo.
Crimean “Deputy Prime Minister” Rustam Temirgaliev told news agencies on Apr. 21 he believed there would be strong support from investors to develop the prospective gambling zone. In his view, the peninsula already has an infrastructure suited to further tourism development
“The gambling center stands a good chance of becoming a competitor to such sophisticated territories as Macau, Monaco, and Las Vegas,” Temirgaliev said.
The idea won swift support from Putin, who sent a bill to Russia’s parliament aimed at enabling Crimea’s transformation. It also received immediate backing from the Russian Regional Development Ministry, which projects that an entertainment and tourism complex would bring Crimea — which in peaceful times sees about 3 million vacationers annually — an additional 600,000 visitors a year, worth roughly 1 billion extra rubles ($28 million) to the region’s budget.
However bizarre the idea may seem outside Russia, it is clear that the Russian authorities wish to lose no time in stamping their mark on the newly acquired territory. They are sending out the message that there will be no withdrawal and that they know what they are doing.
The Kremlin’s confidence over its Crimean gamble is rooted largely in Russia’s massive stock of oil and gas. However much EU members may protest, the view goes, Russia, as a huge supplier of fuel to the rest of Europe, ultimately has its critics over a barrel.
While Russians may be willing to pay some kind of price for Crimea, the plan to turn it into a new casino mecca suggests that the Kremlin itself is not quite certain why it wants Crimea back or what it wants to do with it. The plan looks particularly questionable in light of the recent fruitless launch of a Las Vegas-style resort in Sochi after the Winter Olympics.
Support for the Sochi plan is said to have been lukewarm both among Russians and on the international tourism market. The complex’s projected prices would have approached those charged by some fashionable European resorts, and there was doubt over whether enough visitors would be willing to pay up. In the end the idea of a gambling palace was rejected as clashing with the kind of high-end resort Sochi aims to become.
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