[Marxism] A new Cold War? Really?

Louis Proyect 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 
their playgrounds.

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 
money.

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 
for them.

“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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