[Marxism] A new Cold War? Really?
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 8 12:23:23 MDT 2014
NY Times, Sept. 8 2014
Despite Sanctions, Cash Keeps Flowing at Playground for Russia’s Rich
By JIM YARDLEY
FORTE DEI MARMI, Italy — In this seaside resort town that is Italy’s
version of a Russian Riviera, where furs dangle in shop windows in
August and beach clubs keep chilled bottles of vodka, a temblor of
anxiety unnerved hoteliers and restaurateurs in March. Usually, the
phones would ring with Russians booking rooms, villas, even helicopters.
But the phones suddenly went quiet.
It was the silence of sanctions. When the United States and Europe
announced the first round of sanctions early this year in response to
Russian aggression in Ukraine, the intent was to cripple individuals and
institutions close to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. But
Russian money is on conspicuous and regular display on this stretch of
the Tuscan coast, and the possibility that it might dry up alarmed the
town’s business leaders.
Not to worry.
“For a few days, there was a pause, and business looked like it was
slowing down,” said Paolo Corchia, owner of the Hotel President, one of
the town’s most elegant hotels, and president of the regional hotel
association. “But then business went back to normal.”
If normal can be defined as one shop selling violet-colored
crocodile-skin loafers for 1,690 euros, or about $2,200. Or simple beach
canopies that rent for up to €250 a day just to reserve 10 square feet
of shaded sand. Or aviation companies that rent helicopters to take
Russian shoppers on day trips to Monte Carlo for €4,450.
For all the attention to wider sanctions, which the United States and
the European Union threatened to impose after a NATO meeting last week,
the scope of Russian investment and influence across Europe is expansive
and much of it not affected, especially as Russia’s rich have
transformed places like London, the Côte d’Azur and Forte dei Marmi into
Russian money is so important that even as European leaders are taking a
tougher line with Mr. Putin, none want to damage the broader economic
ties with measures that go beyond targeted sanctions.
Unlike the days when Russians were cloistered behind the Iron Curtain,
today they are so ensconced in Europe that more punitive steps would be
likely to inflict the greater damage on still-weak European economies.
That is so especially, but not only, in Italy. Like Germany, Italy is a
major consumer of Russian natural gas, but ties go far beyond energy.
Once a favorite summer spot of Italian industrialists, Forte dei Marmi
has survived the economic downturn since 2008 largely because of Russian
Russian tourism has grown rapidly in Italy, increasing by 25 percent in
2013 alone. According to Italy’s Foreign Ministry, 747,000 Russians
visited Italy in 2013, while 52,000 Italians visited Russia. Russians
are also roughly tied with Japanese as the biggest spenders among
tourists, averaging €150 to €175 a day, roughly $195 to $225, according
to Italy’s Foreign Ministry.
Before the Ukraine crisis, the two countries had declared 2014 as the
year of Russia-Italy cross-tourism — a campaign whose timing has turned
out to be awkward, at best. Italy’s tourism agency was participating in
a trade show in Moscow when Russia annexed Crimea. New direct flights
were started from Italy’s Adriatic coast to different Russian cities to
attract middle-class tourists, even as Forte dei Marmi continued to lure
the Russian superrich to the Mediterranean coast.
“Here, it is beautiful, safe, clean, comfortable, equipped with boat and
yacht rentals — and full of elegant people,” explained Irina Krassiouk,
a native of Moscow who has lived in Italy for 23 years and manages one
of the private beach clubs lining the shore. In August, Ms. Krassiouk
organized a fashion show for Russian clients, with contestants from the
Miss Italy pageant prowling a catwalk in furs. Guests also were allowed
to browse Ferraris, Maseratis, jewelry and other luxury Italian goods.
“Now that Russia is closing its relations with Europe, I imagine it’s
hard to have Italian products there,” Ms. Krassiouk said. “If they come
here, my clients will know where to find them.”
Russians have been coming to Forte dei Marmi for two decades and have
steadily reshaped to their own tastes what was once a quiet, elegant
beach village for the Italian elite. Locals describe a real estate
frenzy that became so crazed a decade ago that Russian buyers would
purchase homes sight unseen — and then knock them down and build bigger
villas. The village center, once filled with quaint local shops, has
been overtaken by luxury brands such as Prada and Gucci, along with
furriers and other designer shops.
Rich Russians have long been regulars in the Mediterranean, having
established a prominent enclave at the Côte d’Azur in France. But Forte
dei Marmi offered wider beaches, a good location for jumping off to
other areas (hence the thriving helicopter services), an established
infrastructure of beach services (some clubs offer piped-in music or
Wi-Fi with beach chairs) and, most of all, exclusivity. It is not
unusual, according to several shop clerks, for Russian customers to
arrive just before closing and request that a store be kept open, just
“They would leave a shop with €150,000 or €200,000 in clothes,” said
Enrico Salvadori, a journalist who has covered the region for 25 years
for the newspaper La Nazione. “The Russians have been vital, especially
from 2008 onward, when the economic crisis hit and the number of
Italians coming here started falling.”
Yet many longtime residents do not regard the Russians as saviors. “A
tsunami can be from the ocean, but from money, too,” said Fabio
Genovesi, author of “Morte dei Marmi,” or “Death of the Marmi.” “This
place wasn’t ready for the amount of money the Russians brought.”
Mr. Genovesi and others tell stories of Russian excess that have become
local lore: of €400 tips to gardeners or €1,000 tips to waiters; of a
Russian driver who, having bumped a person on a motorbike, handed over
€4,000 ($5,182) in cash and drove away; of early-morning fireworks shows
above private residences that cost thousands of euros and make laughable
the fines of a few hundred euros handed out by the police.
“It is too late,” said Mr. Genovesi. “The economy is now built on them.
We can’t go back.”
Others are less gloomy. Mr. Corchia, the hotelier, said Russians have
steadily adapted to village ways, eschewing giant sport utility vehicles
for bicycles. “The leitmotif is understated elegance, not ostentation,”
he said. “In the beginning, it was not easy.”
The prospect of expanded sanctions raises worries that the local economy
will feel a pinch. Across the country on the Adriatic coast, the number
of Russian visitors dropped by 12 percent in Rimini Province, which had
targeted a middle-class clientele. In Forte dei Marmi, tourism is also
down from last year, but many people blame a rainy July and the
continued decline in Italian visitors.
At Lobster Russian Corner, a private restaurant and club, the Ukraine
crisis has been an inconvenience, since members living in Moscow are no
longer allowed to fly over Ukrainian airspace, and must follow longer
routes. Some members have decided not to make the trip, yet for many of
the wealthiest Russian businessmen, little has changed. The billionaire
Roman Abramovich, who lives in London, stopped by the village on his
yacht in August, local residents say, as did the former governor of
Moscow, Boris Gromov.
“The oligarchs have not changed anything because of the war,” said
Indrek Alberg, an ethnic Russian raised in Estonia, who is one of the
owners of the club. “I think these are political games. Not so much has
changed. It is basically the same.”
Or so Forte dei Marmi is hoping.
“We’re like Crimea, and we’ll ask to be part of Russia,” Mr. Corchia
said, laughing, only to quickly add, “That is just a joke.”
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.
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