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MOSCOW -- Russians looking for a vacation bargain may well find it close by in the country's answer to the French Riviera: the recently annexed Black Seapeninsula of Crimea.
"It's cheap to go to Crimea!" screams an ad on the website of new Russian budget airline Dobrolet that launched its maiden flight to the region this week.
A round trip ticket in July, the height of the summer vacation season, will cost 6,881 rubles, or $199.31. That is 15 to 20 percent less than Aeroflot, which owns Dobrolet. Starting June 15, the airline plans several flights a day to and from the region, each able to carry close to 200 passengers.
Russian prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev attended Dobrolet's launch ceremony.
And on Tuesday, the country’s parliament passed a law making it legal for casinos to operate in Crimea –- raising the specter of a Las Vegas of the Black Sea. This comes on the heels of Russia’s designation of Crimea as a "special economic zone," which would make it easier for businesses to invest in the region.
These initiatives come as the peninsula’s economy languishes following a secession referendum that Kiev and Western countries regard as illegitimate and Moscow's annexation.
A long-time popular holiday destination for both Russians and Ukrainian, Ukrainian visitors practically vanished after what Kiev calls Moscow’s “occupation” of the peninsula.