Sydney / DPA
The Republic of Kiribati, a tiny archipelago nation in the Pacific Ocean, is of one of the poorest countries in the world – and it’s fighting for survival.
The over 30 coral atolls and islands that make up the country face an existential threat, with scientists predicting that it could be one of the first low-lying territories to succumb to rising sea levels.
In the face of such adversity, Kiribati has been presented with a unique opportunity that could turn its luck around.
Russian millionaire and former parliamentarian Anton Bakov is looking to the Pacific haven for much-needed physical territory to turn his virtual micronation of the Imperial Throne into a bonafide sovereign state.
His goal is to re-establish the empire of the Romanovs, the Russian monarchy that ended with the violent Bolshevik revolution in 1917, on Kiribati’s three uninhabited islands of Malden, Starbuck and Millennium (Caroline), across a total territory of 64 square-kilometres.
“Located on these islands we propose the establishing of a new administrative unit in free association with the Republic of Kiribati,” Bakov tells dpa. The islands will be purchased, not leased, and the name of the new territory will be the “Romanov Empire.”
The proposal to the Kiribati government was made last year in April.
The proposed three islands are several hundreds of kilometres apart from each other and are mostly barren.
They are also so far from the rest of the world that the main island Kirimati is 14 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, making it the furthest east in the international date line.
Malden, the biggest of the three at 40 square kilometres, was once used by the British government as the testing site for a hydrogen bomb in 1956.
Last month, Bakov met Kiribati’s president, Taneti Mamau, as well as a number of ministers and parliamentarians, to push for the proposal.
Bakov told the government of his plans to “inject 120 million US dollars directly into the budget” and invest “another 230 million US dollars in the first stage of development project on Malden Island.”
“The main economic objects of the islands will be eco-friendly hotels and fish-processing plants,” he says, adding that they plan to construct air and sea ports, solar power stations, fresh water plants, schools, hospitals, housing and a “Russian Imperial University.”
He claimed that as many as 1,000 local jobs will be created.
“On top of that the additional taxes and custom dues would flow to [Kiribati’s] budget,” Bakov says.
Bakov made his first money from tourism and investment before the collapse of the Soviet Union and was once a part-owner of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, which is now a multi-billion-dollar business.
For a tiny country in the middle of Pacific, such an investment – more than half of the gross domestic product – would be a huge boost for the economy. Bakov says despite the business investment, the main goal is “to restore the status of the Romanov dynasty, which was lost in 1917.”
“The head of the state will be the heir of the Russian and Byzantine throne, Nicholas III,” Bakov says.
As the head of the Russian Monarchy Party, Bakov in 2013 announced the formation of the Imperial Throne, a model country with plans to become the sovereign nation of Romanov Empire.
A German noble, Prince Karl Emich of Leiningen, a great-great-grandson of 19th-century Russian Emperor Alexander II, was announced as the heir to this micronation’s throne and renamed Nicholas III.
But debates surround the current pretender as several people with Russian monarchial lineage have staked their claims in the line of succession to the throne.
Bakov, a self-declared “archchancellor of the Imperial Throne,” says the establishment of the Romanov Empire in the Pacific will provide state recognition and help establish the legitimacy of Prince Karl as heir to the throne.
“The emperor should be an internationally recognized monarch, just like the princes of Monaco and Liechtenstein. This status is possible only because both countries have their own territories,” Bakov says.
Just as the sovereignty of Monaco is limited by France and the sovereignty of Liechtenstein by Switzerland, “we agree to the similar relationship with the Republic of Kiribati.”
Prince Karl is also involved in the
investment project, Bakov says.
Bakov hopes this year’s centenary of the fall of the Russian empire will be marked by the return of the Romanov dynasty.
But one academic specializing on the South Pacific says the area was becoming the new hunting ground for predatory investment.
Pala Molisa from Wellington’s Victoria University told Radio New Zealand the Kiribati government need to strike a fine balancing act between trying to attract investors and maintaining sovereignty.
Investment opportunities like these have often been a means of practising a kind of cultural imperialism that neglects the voices and concerns of communities especially at the lower grassroots level.
However Bakov says the government has already approved the proposal “in general,” and the president has formed a task force group to look at the proposal, a Kiribati government official confirmed.
The president’s office says the proposal is now with the foreign investment commission for further study. The cabinet will decide after receiving recommendation from the commission, a staff member says.
Former Kiribati president, Teburoro Tito, is reportedly supportive of the project. It could be “a money-spinner” for the tourism industry, he says – “assuming the things they’re saying are true.”