International Economic Forum: Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation

“Think of the benefits of working in Russia, don’t give in to pressure and blackmail, and we will help you.” Those were among the opening thoughts of Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at the 18th meeting of the International Economic Forum which opened Thursday in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s northern capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's opening speech to the International Economic Forum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opening speech to the International Economic Forum.

With events in Ukraine and active lobbying by the West, this year’s theme is Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation and speakers lost no time in blaming the West with Mr. Putin leading the charge. Ladies and gentlemen, this is an economic forum but there is no avoiding a few words on politics. Politics influences economic processes, and in this respect I note that inability to find compromises, unwillingness to take into account partners’ lawful interests, and blunt use of pressure only add to chaos and instability and create new risks for the international community’s continued development.

What’s wrong with Mr. Putin’s logic is that he’s right.

There are those who feel that Russia has nowhere to turn but Russia is a Eurasian country, and as Mr. Putin says,  “it is natural to be highly interested in the Asia-Pacific region. It is both a huge market and an important source of growth for Russia’s Far East and Eastern Siberia.”

opening speech to the International Economic Forum.
President Putin speaking to the International Economic Forum.

However right now Russia is feeling pinched and while some 6,500 world business leaders made the trip, RT reported that attendance is sharply down and about 55% of those in attendance are from Russia. In the USA the Obama administration lobbied hard and many American companies who usually make the trip decided to stay home this year. Many German CEOs stayed home as well.

Not everyone present was a cheerleader for Mr. Putin however, including well known Russian executives. Bernard Sucher of the Russian investment bank, Anto, said that “Russia has decided to pursue a third way, which I consider an illusion. It is a fortress mentality that believes in a largely self-sufficient Russia that believes in its own path….” Sucher told the NY Times that the believed this path to be dangerous.

Round table discussions have not always been agreeable.
Round table discussions have not always been unanimous.

Ben van Beurden, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Dutch Shell told delegates to measure results by decades and not by what happens just in a year. Royal Dutch Shell is a major producer of natural gas.

Vladimir Putin also met with heads of major Russian and foreign companies and business associations at the CEO Global Summit, which is part of the St Petersburg Forum.

Over 1,700 journalists arrived for the forum and President Putin arranged for a speech by Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. The addition of the Chinese official gave many of the delegates the impression that Russia is sending a clear signal that Russian-Sino integration is moving forward quickly.

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