MOSCOW — Upon getting the news that the United States and European Union wouldn’t issue travel visas to certain senior officials as part of the continuing sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, no one in Moscow complained out loud.
Indeed, several prominent officials publicly declared that they would vacation in Russia, even if privately they wrung their hands over ruined plans for family vacations overseas. Then the government announced that it would not allow members of the armed forces to leave the country, and the image of government employees collectively opting for a “staycation” this summer got even stronger.
On April 10th, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a warning to Russian citizens, noting that the sanctions might increase the likelihood that Russian citizens would be detained by American law enforcement if they travel to the United States. The Foreign Ministry issued a general recommendation that Russian citizens avoid international travel this summer.
In truth, according to Kommersant's sources in the government, much of the responsibility for federal employees’ staying in Russia this summer lies at least partially with those employees themselves. Mostly for political reasons, many prefer not to go abroad, both out of solidarity with their sanctioned colleagues and to avoid spending money in “unfriendly” countries.
News of both Crimea’s annexation and the first list of sanctioned individuals, which included 11 Duma deputies and 8 senators, prompted euphoria in the Duma (Russian parliament). The Duma adopted - by a vote of 353 to 97 - a decree extending the "sanctions" to all of members of the Duma.
Members of the United Russia party bragged, both in public and in private, about the several weeks they were planning to spend in Crimea over the summer. They also announced the creation of an advertising campaign, “We’re going to Crimea! Who is with us?” One of the project’s features was supposed to be a website with photos of the Duma members on holiday in Crimea.
Neither the site nor the ad campaign materialized. Enthusiasm waned, and the party leadership decided against a ban on certain vacation destinations for its members not already on the list of sanctioned officials.
The truth is, most Russian Duma members will, in fact, have to spend their holidays at home. That’s not because of the sanctions, however - it’s because there are elections slated in many regions this fall, and deputies and senators are returning to their home regions to campaign instead of going on holiday.
“I’m on Canada’s sanctions list, and I’m certainly not going to Canada,” explained Mikhail Margelov, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council of Russia.
But Margelov also noted that there are gubernatorial elections in Pskov Oblast on September 14: "I’m going to give up my vacation to work on Andrei Turchak’s campaign," he said, adding that there hadn’t been any recommendations, orders or advice given to Duma members regarding where to spend vacations.
There are also electoral campaigns underway in Crimea, and it’s also possible that current Duma members will take a working vacation to Crimea, using their time on the peninsula to work with the local government.
Elected officials at all levels around the country spoke of “solidarity” with their blacklisted colleagues. Even before May, the government ministers and vice-premiers discussing, “their increased responsibility to spend less time in unfriendly countries,” one source said. It’s not a direct ban, just a collective decision to stand with their blacklisted colleagues.
This means that employees of state-owned companies and regional administrations will have to accept the responsibility for filling up Crimea’s resorts. Vladimir Putin already said, in April, that employees of state-owned companies shouldn’t vacation in Europe. But according to our sources, employees of sanctioned companies have been explicitly told that they should not travel to Europe or the U.S.
In May, the Federal Tourism Agency sent state-owned firms and other major companies offers for discounted trips to Crimea’s resorts. It was one way that the Agency is planning to fill up the tourism infrastructure in Crimea. Some companies, including Gazprom and Transneft, had already made arrangements for employee trips to Crimea before the official recommendation.
But official recommendations have not been enough to convince all of Russia’s major companies that their employees would be best off spending their vacation in Crimea: One is reportedly spending millions to send the families of employees on vacation in Turkey, Spain, Greece and Croatia.
Regional administrations are picking up some of the slack, spending record sums to send children, including orphans, as well as disabled adults, to Crimea’s resorts.
In all, however, the government’s attempts to fill up Crimea’s resorts with the employees of state-owned companies and their families have been successful. State-owned companies are major employers, and their workers have salaries that are higher than average, meaning they have more money to spend while in Crimea. So even if there are less than the usual six million tourists this summer in Crimea, the tourists who do come will have more money to spend, and perhaps Crimea can make up for the difference by raising prices.