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Although the global financial crisis did not go without consequences for Russian billionaires, suitcases of money and yachts owned by Russians continue to arrive in Montenegro, which they have already begun to call “Moscow at Sea”.
In the past few years, Montenegro has gained great popularity among tourists from Russia, ahead of Turkey and the southern coast of France. Rich Russians, including such prominent figures as billionaire Oleg Deripaska, are willing to make large investments in the development of the tourism business and the industrial sector of Montenegro. Thanks mainly to Russia, this small country on the Adriatic coast attracts more foreign investment per capita than any other state on the continent.
Builders barely keep up with demand
One of the largest investors is the young Russian millionaire Vyacheslav Leibman, managing partner of the Mirax Group. In Montenegro, Leibman is implementing a $ 310 million project to build a hotel and residential complex on the Budva Peninsula.
The project called Astra Montenegro includes luxury villas with an area of 324 square meters. m, smaller apartments, as well as a 27-story building in a modernist style with an adjoining multifunctional complex, docks for pleasure boats for the wealthy and a water park for their children. This investment project may seem bold, given that many of its oligarchic comrades in the workshop have cost dearly to the economic crisis. However, Leibman insists that he is barely keeping up with demand.
He says that more than half of the condominiums of the new Mirax complex, which are sold at a price of $ 10.4 thousand per square meter, have already been sold to top managers of large Russian companies at the level of Gazprom, Lukoil and VTB, and they paid in full and in cash. Despite the financial crisis, money flows in a stream, says Leibman, who recently organized a Madonna concert in Budva as part of an advertising campaign for his project. However, he hopes that the global financial crisis will lead to lower land prices in Montenegro, which is now “more expensive than in Monaco.”
Budva’s vice mayor, Lazar Radenovich, says that Russians started investing here eight years ago when property prices were very low after the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Since then, the volume of Russian investments in the city has grown to 13 billion, he says, and thanks to this, a new class of millionaires has been created in Budva, which significantly increased city tax revenues.
“Bought up all of Montenegro”
Meanwhile, such active Russian investments in Montenegro cause concern among Western governments, which are concerned about the tightening of Russian control in the Balkans. Last year, the European Parliament ordered a series of investigations into Russian investments in Europe to be launched, expressing concern that the booming real estate market presents ample opportunities for illegal operations. The European Commission has also repeatedly warned of the probable money laundering in Montenegro.
Co-owner of one of the luxury hotel complexes Hotel Splendid Zarko Radulovic assures that the opinion that the Russians bought up all of Montenegro is wrong, since only 1% of the property in the country belongs to foreigners. However, according to the reports of the European Parliament, official statistics are inaccurate, because Russians often buy property in Montenegro through third countries or in partnership with citizens of the country.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, categorically denies that Russian investment is a geopolitical tool. However, the “Russification” of Montenegro is undeniable. Russian language is heard everywhere: in clubs, on beaches, in expensive restaurants, and in the recently opened Russian-language school. Until recently, those who arrived at the international airport in Podgorica were greeted by an inscription in Russian: “Relax where you are loved!”