President Vladimir Putin is trying to transform Crimea into the Singapore of the Black Sea. That effort so far has cost Russia’s newest republic its entire banking system and all three of its McDonald’s.
After Putin annexed Crimea in March, the government in Kiev banned all lenders operating under Ukrainian law from the region. Now almost every bank on the peninsula, from billionaire Igor Kolomoisky’s Privatbank, Ukraine’s largest, to Italy’s UniCredit SpA (UCG) has been shuttered. Unlike UniCredit, which is refunding deposits, Privatbank simply pocketed the cash, leaving its clients to seek compensation from Russia.
“Thank God they decided to return my money,” said Alla Anisomova, a retiree in her 60s who gets by on less than $300 a month. Anisomova is among the thousands of people who have flocked to the former Privatbank branch on Lenin Street in Kerch, a city on the eastern edge of Crimea, to apply for redress from Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency. The agency, which now controls the building, has pledged to return deposits of as much as 700,000 rubles ($20,000).
For Anisomova and Crimea’s other 600,000 or so pensioners, the headaches of navigating the new bureaucracy have an upside. Putin has increased their monthly stipends 50 percent and by July will raise them to double what Ukraine paid. Those payments are made through local post offices, in cash.
The pension increases, deposit compensations and pay raises for 140,000 public workers are part of the $48 billion Russia may spend by the end of the decade to transform Crimea into a commercial hub similar to Singapore, according to Oleg Savelyev, head of the new Crimea Affairs Ministry. That’s about 10 times the annual output of the region of 2 million people.
“I blew the dust off the book, ‘Singapore: From Third World to First’ by Lee Kuan Yew to have another read when I became minister,” Savelyev said in an interview in his office in the Economy Ministry in Moscow, where he was deputy minister before his promotion. “We will pursue Singapore’s model in Crimea, we’ll ensure a comfortable business environment there.”
Lee, who ruled Singapore from 1959 to 1990, turned the former impoverished British colony into one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The World Bank ranks Singapore No. 1 on its annual ease of doing business survey. Russia is 92nd, just behind Albania and Barbados.