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

UCP candidate fined $70,000

Penalty against Jeff Callaway is for two dozen separate offences

Kraay Family corn maze celebrates 20 years

Maze and dozens of other attractions at Kraay Family Farm opens on Friday

Cross-country country music show Thursday night at Red Deer’s Westerner Days

Musians Aaron Goodvin and Jason Benoit perform at the Centrium

Rebalancing Red Deer’s residential growth begins with Hazlett Lake plans

Northwest neighbourhoods to be developed over next decade or two

Study says rents in most cities are unaffordable for lower-income earners

OTTAWA — A minimum-wage worker could afford to rent in just a… Continue reading

Defence calling no evidence in case of German tourist shot west of Calgary

CALGARY — The defence is calling no evidence on behalf of a… Continue reading

Tale of two libraries: Edmonton design backlash morphs into rivalry with Calgary

EDMONTON — The pitched reaction to Edmonton’s remodelled downtown library has morphed… Continue reading

Mountain pine beetle makes its way into Ponoka County

Assar Grinde has a special attachment to the pine trees that line… Continue reading

Opinion: Supervised consumption sites can’t be abandoned in Alberta

By Heather Sweet When Jason Luan, the provincial government’s associate minister of… Continue reading

FIFA claims progress in letting women attend games in Iran

ZURICH — FIFA says Iran’s soccer federation supports letting women attend 2022… Continue reading

Diving gold and perfect marks for Chen Yuxi at age 13

GWANGJU, Korea, Republic Of — Thirteen-year-old Chinese diver Chen Yuxi won the… Continue reading

Louvre in Paris removes Sackler name after opioid protests

PARIS — France’s Louvre Museum in Paris has become the first major… Continue reading

Man shouting ‘You die’ kills nearly 30 at Japan anime studio

TOKYO — A man screaming “You die!” burst into an animation production… Continue reading

Most Read