Ukraine crisis: Russia plans Crimea casino boom

image source, AFP
image captionRussia is developing a mini Las Vegas at Azov City near the Caucasus region

Russian President Vladimir Putin has presented a draft law to create a gambling zone in Crimea, now that the Kremlin has declared the Ukrainian territory part of Russia.

By law casinos are restricted to four special areas in Russia, all a long way from Moscow. Now Crimea will become the fifth area, under Mr Putin's plan.

So far only Azov City, a coastal area east of Crimea, has opened casinos.

Kiev accuses Russia of fomenting the current unrest in eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian militants occupying official buildings in Ukraine's Donetsk region refuse to recognise the Kiev authorities. Their actions have fuelled fears that more regions could break away and join Russia.

Crimea is not only the base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet - it also has a special place in Russian history as a holiday destination.

Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when the Soviet authorities transferred it to Soviet Ukraine.

Development plans

Mr Putin has announced ambitious plans to develop the Crimean economy. It will be up to the new authorities in Crimea to decide the location and extent of the planned casino zone.

The new Crimean leaders loyal to Mr Putin do not have international recognition.

In 2009 Russia decided to ban casinos from Moscow, where they proliferated after the collapse of communism. At the time Mr Putin said it was necessary to halt the growth of gambling addictions in Russia.

The other officially designated gambling zones in Russia are Primorye, in the far east, Sibirskaya Moneta, in central Siberia, and Yantarnaya in Kaliningrad, by the Baltic Sea.

During Ukraine's difficult transition from Soviet Communism the Crimean economy has suffered from corruption and neglect, which also remain rife in other parts of Ukraine.

Crimea's many military staff and pensioners rely on payments from the state.

In a separate move on Monday, Mr Putin signed legal amendments to make it simpler for Russian speakers in the former Soviet Union to acquire Russian citizenship.

Russian speakers make up the majority in Crimea and the Donetsk region, as well as neighbouring Luhansk region.

Embracing Crimean Tatars

Mr Putin also signed a decree on Monday to rehabilitate Crimea's Muslim Tatars and other ethnic minorities who suffered during the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

The 300,000-strong Tatar community - which makes up 15% of Crimea's population - opposed the peninsula's incorporation into Russia last month.

In a televised statement, Mr Putin said "I have signed a decree to rehabilitate Crimean Tatars in Crimea, its Armenian population, Germans, Greeks - all those who suffered during Stalin's repressions".

He said the decree would lead to economic development measures, though he did not specify what help for ethnic minorities was envisaged.

Stalin accused the Tatars of collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War Two and deported them en masse to Central Asia and Siberia in 1944. Many did not survive.

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