As Russia’s relations with the west continue to fray, the eastern port city of Vladivostok is at the centre of a shift in geopolitical strategy. Putin is looking towards Asia’s elite and their tourism money – but will residents see a rouble?
Cutting through several miles of dark forest, it’s not until the car turns off the main road and down a lamp-lined lane that you can see it. Bright lights reflect off the orange panelling, the car park is nearly full and a large television screen next to the entrance flashes images of a steak, with the English words “the finest cuts of beef” written underneath.
The complex is Tigre de Cristal, the first mega-casino of many that will soon populate a new gaming zone just outside of Vladivostok, a city on the fringes of Russia’s Far East. The $800m (£500m) brainchild of the Hong Kong gaming tycoon Lawrence Ho, the casino marks the beginning of a grand plan to remake Vladivostok and its surrounding Primorsky region into a ritzy entertainment hub for Asia’s elite. In the next five years, investors hope that a water park, golf course, indoor ski slope and more casinos will transform the wilds of the forest into a Russian version of Macau or Hong Kong.
Relations with the US and Europe are hanging by a thread. Where else can Russia turn if not to Asia?
With the new casino, I hope they’ll improve our infrastructure again