Author: Fabrizio Vielmini – 10/06/2023
The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum
At its 26th edition, despite the war, the venue retains its global importance as a crucial international business event and platform to debate the challenges of the new multi-polar world.
Next week, the Russian northern capital will host guest from all the “free world” (i.e. the countries refusing Washington’s anti-Russian crusade) attending the 26th edition of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Born in 1997, this international business event, also known as the ‘Russian Davos’, has become since the 2006 an official public diplomacy event gathering global players under the patronage of Presidency of the Russian Federation. President Vladimir Putin regularly participate to the opening of the debates thus contributing to set the tone of the negotiations and operational contacts that follow, thus also revealing the lines informing Russian foreign economic projection. On 7 June, Mr. Putin addressed SPIEF participants, organizers, and guests stressing the importance of the event to answer “the aspirations of most countries to secure both political and economic independence” among “the changes driven by the process of forming a multipolar world order”.
Given the role given to the Forum, Russian diplomacy attaches considerable value and expectations to the SPIEF success, most of all to this one, happening in the 16th month of war in Ukraine. The Anglo-American powers and their East-European subordinates started to implement light forms of boycott against the SPIEF already in 2014. This pressure has intensified with the eruption of war. As a result, it became hard for business representatives to physically reach the venue, due to sanctions imposed on Russian airlines and other service providers. Because of diplomatic tensions between Russia and the Western nations, heads of major corporations based in the US, Europe, and elsewhere declined to participate in the Forum. Escamotages have been conceived as allowing participants who did not wish to be disclosed to remove public information about them and their affiliation on official materials. Very symbolic of this situation is a novelty of 2023 edition: for the first time, not a single Western journalist received accreditation for SPIEF.
The level of attendance is not accordingly the same of pre-war years, when world leaders at the height of Xi Jinping were Mr. Putin’s counterparts during the debates. At the same time, guests at the level of the President of Cuba are expected.
The main theme of the 2023 Forum, “Sovereign development as basis for a just world”, totally aligns with its uneasy historical conjuncture. As the description goes on, the aim for Moscow is to best adjust to the systemic changes of international order towards a multipolar world that the war has accelerated. This means sketching alternative formats of international cooperation, assuring that Russia will maintain its position in the global economy despite Western boycott.
To this end, the event will be structured on business dialogues conceived according to the main perspective foreign partner areas, namely the Arab world, with a special focus on United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, China, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), ASEAN and Latin America.
Apart from the geoeconomic focus, there will be four thematic areas dedicated to the development of the world economy, changes in the Russian economy in the face of existing international pressure and building technological sovereignty. Regarding the latter, given the current conditions, when certain niches on the Russian market are vacated due to sanctions, the forum will be attended by a wide array of business representatives from the Asian countries, attracted by the big opportunities presented by the Russian economy in areas such as electrical engineering, light industry, energy, IT and creative industry.
To this respect, the sanctions made of the SPIEF a sort of test for European entrepreneurs’ creativity. Despite the stubborn and blind attempts of the EU structures to thwart contacts, European entrepreneurs continue to stay engaged in the Russian economy. Indeed, hundreds of European businessmen understood very well the absurdity of the position chosen by the EU élite. Against the threat posed by Brussels, by way of flexibility and creativity, these traders are managing to remain in the Russian market under different guises. As told to RIA Novosti by the president of the Association of Italian Entrepreneurs in Russia (GIM Unimpresa), Mr. Vittorio Torrembini, Italian companies on the ground will not leave an important and attractive market as Russia, Brussels pressure notwithstanding. Italian business is traditionally positive towards Russia and there is a chance that the Russians at the forum will reciprocate. In any case, the war will end, and when the dust will settle down, the winners will be those one remained inside earlier. There could be find many other example of Western businessmen looking for ways to maintain their ties with Russia without damaging their political reputation. The final result it’s situation highly ambiguous but at the same time dynamic and providing opportunities in which wise Europeans thrive below the censor radar of Brussels.
Needless to say, one of the main points at debate in the SPIEF will be a crucial moment of the current transition away from Anglo-American hegemony, to date, the attempts to overcome the dollar-centric global financial system. Supporting the stance of Moscow in front of the Anglo-Saxons, the emerging world powers are well aware of the importance of sidelining the US currency so that to stop its function of geopolitical weapon in the hands of the Western global oligarchic trust. However, this remains a very delicate task of the global transition because to design and advance an alternative “supranational currency” requires enormous efforts and adjustments, which are nevertheless tackled, also by way of gatherings as the SPIEF one.
The great international infrastructural projects will play a great role in the structuring of this web of relation. Accordingly, it is expected that important statements will be made at the Forum on the trans-Eurasian logistics projects, such as the “Belt” Silk Road and the North-South corridor connecting Russian Iran and the Indian Ocean.
One should also take into account how, in countertendency of the current war situation, the Russian economy has so far demonstrated an amazing resilience. It was surprising for this author, visiting Russia in mid-May 2023, to ascertain how, against the expectations of the Anglo-Saxon and their European allies, expecting a collapse of the Russian economy as a result of the sanctions, no tangible effects are visible. Away from the front, life continues to flow as before February 2022, shops present no shortages, restaurants are full and cultural life flourishes.
At the base of the Russian economy’s resilience there are two main factors. First the EAEU economic bloc has maintained its relevance and this has put the Central Asian countries in a position to act as a proxy and channels for the provision of goods and equipment needed in Russia through schemes of parallel imports. Second, to all effects, China is providing a strong support to Russian stance, on the basis of a clear perception of being the next target of the Anglo-American hubris in case of a Russian downfall.
All in all, before our eyes, a new economic reality is emerging in Eurasia, Europe, more than Russia, looks increasingly under the threat of being left on the sidelines of the Eurasian processes and falling into isolation as a result of its politicians’ actions. History will not forgive a political class largely detached from the realities of current world.
It is finally an irony that Saint Petersburg, thought and established 220 year ago by Peter the Great as a “window to Europe” is now becoming a platform for the turning away of Russian economy from the common European space. But, at the same time, even in European countries, there are many forces and players which refuse the blind cap of the EU and act towards cooperation with the Eurasian continental powers.
 Vittorio Torrembini: SSHA i ES vedut okhotu na ved’m za ital’yantsev v Rossii, RIA, 29.05.2023, https://ria.ru/20230529/torrembini-1874380013.html