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Putins 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)



  • Monte Carlo, a model for Crimea?
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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 Russias 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 Russias parliament aimed at enabling Crimeas 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 regions 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 Kremlins confidence over its Crimean gamble is rooted largely in Russias 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 complexs 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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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