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Russian Elite Seek Refuge in Thailand: Phuket’s Transformation

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July 28, 2023

Thailand’s allure as a premier tourist destination has welcomed a unique cohort to its picturesque landscapes – Russian elites. As Western doors close due to the geopolitical ramifications of Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian campaign, Bloomberg’s recent report highlights how Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, has warmly embraced these displaced high-profile Russians.

In the first half of this year alone, over 790,000 Russian citizens ventured into Thailand, marking a staggering 1,000 percent surge compared to the same period last year. The Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports reveals this influx, with a significant portion choosing Phuket as their gateway. The Phuket Tourist Association corroborates this phenomenon, confirming Russians as the island’s dominant tourist demographic.

Yuri Vorona, a Phuket-based restaurant manager, encapsulates the prevailing sentiment: “The atmosphere for everybody is wonderful and peaceful. We have everyday Russians, who just want to rest and not fight.” Such aspirations have led to a notable trend – Russian elites are not merely fleeting tourists but are also investing in Phuket’s property market. With 338 villas sold in the past year, nearly half found their proprietors among the Russian visitors, according to Knight Frank Thailand, a real-estate agency. Christian Steinbach, sales director at FazWaz property group, underscores the Russian-speaking populace as the island’s most substantial property buyers.

Beyond leisure and real estate, Thailand has also become a sanctuary for Russia’s wealthiest individuals. Phuket witnessed the presence of a superyacht purportedly belonging to Russian oligarch Alexander Svetakov during Christmas, while billionaire Igor Rybakov conducted business-coaching sessions on the island in January.

Thailand and its locals are adapting organically to this influx of Russian residents. To accommodate the new demographic, Phuket’s airport now makes announcements in Russian, and a culinary fusion of Russian classics like borscht and blini alongside traditional Thai dishes like pad thai and tom yum soup has emerged. The landscape also boasts Russian bathhouses, rock concerts featuring Russian bands, and a newly inaugurated Russian consulate.

As the migration of Russian elites to Thailand persists, Phuket may well evolve into the “Little Russia” of the East, a testimony to the island’s ability to transform itself into a crossroads of cultures and aspirations.