The strange saga of a Greek-Russian tobacco tycoon shows how crisis-era Greece has regressed into a post-Soviet-style oligarchy.
Ivan Ignatyevich Savvidis has played many unusual roles in his life—one of the great tobacco tycoons of Eurasia, a member of Russia’s Duma, a confidante of Vladimir Putin —but it is his latest one that is now sounding off alarm bells throughout Europe. Savvidis is the parvenu of Greece’s oligarchic scene. Since the onset of the economic crisis, he has effectively seized personal ownership over vast sectors of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and its maritime gateway to the Balkans. The fire sale of old state assets—an auctioning process ordained by the European Union as part of its enforcement of economic austerity, but which has become overwhelmingly rigged by vested political interests within Greece—has given Savvidis a rare opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of euros into his ancestral homeland.