The Cable

Ex-Russian MP Floats Plan to Restore Russian Monarchy. In the South Pacific.

And all he needs is for the tiny island nation of Kiribati to sign on the dotted line.

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Are you Russian? Tired of the cold winters? Authoritarian antics of President Vladimir Putin got you down? Well Anton Bakov, a Russian businessman and ex-member of parliament, has your back. Because Bakov has plans to restore the Russian monarchy…on some desert islands…in the South Pacific.

Bakov wants to buy three uninhabited islands from the small Pacific nation of Kiribati to establish what he calls an “alternative Russia.” The details on how he plans to do that are sketchy. But during a visit to Kiribati on Jan. 27, he said he planned to invest $350 million into the islands to create a resort, support the local economy and, of course, to restore the Romanov Empire to its former glory days. “This is the desire of…a great number of Russian patriots who are not happy with Putin’s regime,” Bakov’s wife told Radio New Zealand. (Though it’s unclear how many Russians who don’t like Putin also want to reinstall a tsar).

It’s not the most traditional form of foreign investment, but Kiribati may not quibble over such details. (After all, $350 million is a large chunk of cash for a country whose 2016 GDP was just $211 million.)

Former Kiribati president Teburoro Tito told Radio New Zealand on Jan. 27 that he favored the deal. “If they can do it, without any cost on us, except from the land which we can host them, then I don’t see any fuss at this stage,” he added. The Kiribati government declined to comment to Foreign Policy, though its foreign investments commission is reportedly still mulling Bakov’s proposal.

Some say the deal may be too good (and too weird) to be true. Sitiveni Halapua, a former politician from the nearby island nation of Tonga, said he understands how Kiribati would be tempted by the cash. “But one has to remember that sometimes you think, ‘This is the solution to your problems,’ and it turns out to make the problems worse,” he said.

Russia already has a history with some of Kiribati’s neighboring island nations. After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, three of them — Vanuatu, Tuvalu, and Nauru — recognized Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in exchange for lucrative economic deals from Russia. (Russia reportedly paid Nauru $50 million for recognizing Abkhazia).

The last Romanov Tsar, Nicolas II, died in the Bolshevik revolution 1917. But Prince Karl Emich of Leiningen, a distant relative to the family line, is the living would-be heir to the now-defunct throne.

Bakov established the Monarchist Party in Russia in 2012 to re-establish the throne, but his enthusiasm to go back to the days of the tsars hasn’t caught fire in Russia. Maybe that’s just because he didn’t have an island resort to go along with it.

Photo credit: De Jongh Freres Neully Paris/Bonhams/Wikimedia Commons

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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