Putin’s signature conference plots ways to bear with international “punishments”


ST. PETERBSURG, Russia — Sanctions.

It’s a word that’s rarely heard among the Russian politicians, business leaders and foreign dignitaries gathered for President Vladimir Putin’s signature economic conference.

Even as Canada and its allies seek to increase their measures against Russia to retaliate over its involvement in Ukraine, there’s little suggestion of compromise on the key issue contributing to the country’s economic pain and an aversion to even mentioning the word ’sanctions’.

In fact, the fighting in Ukraine was referenced only in passing and often in fuzzy terms at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

The annexation of Crimea, which started an escalating wave of international sanctions and travel bans against Putin’s government, wasn’t mentioned at the event’s showcase panel discussions, including one with former British prime minister Tony Blair.

“We will have to bear with the limitations, even if we consider them politically motivated,” said Alexy Kudrin, a former finance minister who is now dean of the faculty of liberal arts at St. Petersburg State University.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke Friday by phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to assure him that Canada and its G7 allies would not let up.

On Friday, the two leaders agreed that the sanctions were more appropriate than ever, especially given recent violence in Ukraine, said a statement from Harper’s office.

But the Russians don’t even like to use the word sanctions.

Vladimir Yakunin, head of the country’s railways and a Putin confidante, referred to them as “illegal restrictions” in an interview with international news agency heads and insisted that only the United Nations has the legitimate power to level true sanctions.

Others more politely refer to them as “punishments.”

The Harper government has said trade sanctions are “putting real pressure” on Russia and that is evident in the numbers floating around the gathering of international business leaders, which is modeled on the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The combination of sanctions and the collapse of oil prices mean that the Russian economy is expected to contract by about three per cent this year.

There has been a 13 per cent decline in real incomes, officials acknowledged at the conference and inflation was running at a 15.8-per-cent pace last month.

The country revised its budget in April, but experts at the New Economic School in Moscow recently warned the pace of defence spending — a combination of the war in Ukraine and Putin’s ambitious military modernization agenda — is unsustainable in this era of low oil prices.

Officials talked up more co-operation with Asia and a burgeoning relationship with China, leaving Kudrin wondering aloud in a panel discussion what was to become of two decades of bridge-building and co-operation with the West.

“What do we hope to achieve by pivoting to Asia? I’ve got apprehensions,” he said.

It was left to Igor Shuvalov, the Russian deputy prime minister, to put the best face on the simmering crisis and to reassure the largely business audience.

He underlined the government’s recent road map to economic stability and noted that the country’s indicators are better than the dire forecasts laid out last fall.

Both in the conference rooms and on the gleaming trade show floor, there was a strained business-as-usual air.

Russian officials feverishly oversaw the signing ceremonies of 12 trade or business deals — everything from electricity to barley — before lunch on Thursday with an additional with 23 more inked in the afternoon.

There was also a sense of expectation that there would be further “punishments.”

A European Union summit — slated for Brussels on June 25-26 — is expected to see the sanctions extended until early 2016. Plus, on Friday, the Russian news agency TASS reported that the EU has extended a ban on the import of products from Crimea and Sevastopol until 2016.

But most of the talk at the forum has not been about how to end the measures, but rather how to cope and manage with them.

Herman Gref, the CEO of Sberbank, a bank majority-owned by the state, said he’s heard some government officials suggest sanctions are good because they will force Russia to look elsewhere for growth and economic opportunities.

The ending of trade restrictions will not solve all of the country’s problems and in a remarkably candid assessment, Gref urged Russians, who notoriously look to blame outside influences for their ills, to consider something else.

“Crisis is always the development of poor management,” he said.

Just Posted

Supporters dance during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., on Saturday, May 8, 2021. RCMP say they have ticketed four people after the rally that was attended by hundreds.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

EDMONTON — A criminologist says a recent court order that allows Alberta… Continue reading

Proceeding with Agri-Trade in the current climate would have been financially risky for Westerner Park and likely for many of the event’s exhibitors, says Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen. (Advocate file photo.)
Westerner Park pleased with city deal, eagerly awaiting news on Westerner Days

The collective sigh of relief may have been simply metaphorical for Westerner… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
Kenney distances himself from caucus vote to turf dissidents with ‘personal agendas’

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he kept his distance in… Continue reading

Rental units in Red Deer continued to be some of the most affordable in Canada, according to the National Rent Report from Rental.ca. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Red Deer rent up year over year, still among lowest in Canada

Rent in Red Deer is up nearly six per cent but is… Continue reading

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

People participate in an Eid al-Fitr ceremony in Overpeck County Park in Ridgefield Park, N.J., Thursday, May 13, 2021. Millions of Muslims across the world are marking a muted and gloomy holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan - a usually joyous three-day celebration that has been significantly toned down as coronavirus cases soar. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Ramadan drives donations, memberships to giving circles

Sahina Islam can still recall the day when she heard an elderly… Continue reading

Pandemic record for Manitoba: Province reports 560 new COVID-19 cases

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government reported a record 560 new COVID-19 cases… Continue reading

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. A judge is expected to rule this morning on a challenge of the United Conservative government’s inquiry into whether foreign groups have conspired against Alberta’s oil industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Judge dismisses attempt to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ activities inquiry

CALGARY — A judge has dismissed an attempt to quash the United… Continue reading

Unifor National President Jerry Dias is seen at a meeting in Toronto, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The head of the country’s largest private-sector union says Parliament should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and possibly put future increases into the hands of an independent commission. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Business, labour groups clash at Senate committee over $15 federal minimum wage

OTTAWA — The head of the country’s largest private-sector union says Parliament… Continue reading

In this file photo dated Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, doses of AstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19 sit in vials at the Fiocruz Foundation after being bottled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some health experts are questioning Canada's decision to accept thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this week just for them to sit in freezers in an Ontario warehouse because provinces have shunned the idea of using any more of them for first doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bruna Prado, FILE
Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

OTTAWA — Some health experts are questioning Canada’s decision to accept thousands… Continue reading

In this image from video, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2020. A U.S. lawmaker who has made a political crusade out of getting the border with Canada reopened is once again pressing his case with President Joe Biden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-House Television via AP
New CDC guidance makes it clear: time to reopen Canada-U.S. border, congressman says

WASHINGTON — A U.S. lawmaker who has made a political crusade out… Continue reading

A used protective face mask is seen discarded on the ground in Vancouver, B.C. in May 2020. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Medical exception letters required for Albertans who don’t wear masks in public areas

EDMONTON — Alberta has moved to close loopholes people might use as… Continue reading

Most Read