Author: Enrico Germano
It seems anomalous that despite the current package of EU sanctions, to which Switzerland has also joined, and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum – the so-called SPIEF, which reached its 25th edition this year – took place again this year from Wednesday 15 June to Saturday 18 June 2022, albeit on a much smaller scale than in recent years, where it had achieved the epithet of the Russian Davos.
This International Forum had grown considerably over the years both in visibility and in the number and depth of participants. The website of the newspaper, www.tag43.it, which also covers economics and finance, recalls that many Prime Ministers participated in recent year, in particular in 2013 German Prime Minister Angela Merkel participated, in 2016 Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in 2017 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2018 French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and in 2019 UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Chinese President Xi Jimping. At the height of its notoriety, before the Covid-19 pandemic broke, 19,000 delegates representing 145 countries attended in 2019. In 2021, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, approximately 13,500 delegates from 141 nations were present at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum1.
This Forum, described by the Italian newspaper la Repubblica as “the Russian Federation’s annual showcase for foreign investors”2, took place this year with the participation of many so-called friendly countries of Russia – namely Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Burma, Afghanistan, Venezuela – and on the last day the Chinese premier and also the Egyptian premier Al Sisi connected by videoconference.
None of the countries belonging to the Western block were present, but in a particular session ‘Western Investors in Russia. New Reality’, the director of the Italian Confederation of Industry in Russia Alfredo Gozzi, the President of the Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce Vincenzo Trani, and their French and American counterparts Emmanuel Quidet and Robert Agee attended. “Pecunia non olet”, money does not smell. The Latin quotation, attributed to the Emperor Vespasian in the first century AD, remains topical despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and the sanctions in place.
In the newspaper La Repubblica dated June 17th 20223, the representative of the Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce, perhaps paraphrasing Vespasian, pointed out: “(…) Business is business, but we do not support February events. Business cannot mix with politics”. For its part, La Repubblica also mentioned that the American Agee would dispute the withdrawal of big brands from the Russian Federation, stating that only 11% of American companies would leave the Russian market4. The data is still to be verified, but what is certain is the dichotomy of words between what some of G7 countries say and then do, while in Switzerland more and more companies are suffering the repercussions of the sanctions wanted by the EU and implemented by the Swiss Federal Council.
Out of professional scrupulousness and out of curiosity, I had the opportunity to peruse the extensive handouts on the daily programmes5 planned during the Russian Davos, which included speeches and debates on the most varied topics, touching on all economic and financial sectors. In his speech on Friday June 17th 2022, Vladimir Putin spoke at the Forum, reiterating his accusations against the EU and the US, which the main international newspapers reported on in their respective editions of June 18th 2022, of which in this instance only those in Italian shall be quoted: “The US thinks it is the only centre of the world. The West intentionally undermines international foundations in the name of their geopolitical illusions” and further” and again: “The sanctions against Russia are foolish and reckless, their purpose is to crush the economy of the Russian Federation but they have not worked”. A further statement made by Putin at the Forum should not be underestimated and should give us serious pause: “The current situation in Europe will lead to a wave of radicalism and a change of elites”6.
Hopefully the concrete glimmers of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, with the active role of the European Union as well as the USA and China, will be reactivated to achieve a lasting peace, even at the cost of Ukraine losing a slice of its territory, which now seems inescapable, although the signs of peace are not comforting. The visit of the Europe’s big 3, namely Italy, France and Germany to Ukraine on June 16th 2022 seemed to be aimed at persuading President Zelensky to sit at the negotiating table, although we only witnessed an assist to Ukraine in order to promote its candidate status for the EU membership, which the European Commission itself then confirmed, with a speech delivered by President Von Der Leyen in Brussels on June 17th 2022, who for the occasion dressed the yellow and blue Ukraine’s colours. However, let us not forget that the actual admission of Ukraine is likely to take decades, as several very strict and selective criteria will have to be fulfilled, including indices of corruption, which several Scandinavian countries have raised.
1 www.tag43, economia e finanza, Al via lo SPIEF, la Davos russa di San Pietroburgo diventata radioattiva
2 La Repubblica, June 15th 2022
3 La Repubblica, June 17th 2022
4 La Repubblica, June 15th 2022
6 Corriere della Sera, June 18th 2022; La Repubblica, June 18th 2022; IlSole24Ore, June 18th 2022