St. Petersburg Forum to Feature New Goals, Friends

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St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Day three
Ramil Sitdikov/Sputnik via AP

The 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum next week is going to be very different from previous prewar gatherings.

The delegations of Western executives and politicians that attended the event for years to meet with members of the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin to reassure them of their commitment to Russia are all gone. Those friends who remain, including neighbors from the former Soviet Union, are facing a choice between deepening their ties with Moscow or staying away to avoid possible complications because of Western sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine nearly four months ago.

In his address to the participants of the forum, which is being held under the slogan "New Opportunities in a New World," Putin noted that it was taking place at "a difficult time" for the whole global community. He pointed to "the mistakes of Western countries in economic policy over many years and illegitimate sanctions," which had led to "global inflation, the disruption of usual supply chains, and a sharp increase in poverty and food shortages."

But Putin believes that the challenges also bring new opportunities and that the coming decade will usher in "a period of economic sovereignty" for Russia. The task for the country would be to expand and upgrade the national infrastructure and technology base, enhancing specialists' skills and creating an independent and efficient financial system.

Those targets are to be at the center of discussions at the forum on Jun. 15-18. Reflecting Russia's focus on internal development, the majority of deals to be signed on the sidelines of the forum are expected to be among domestic companies, although international cooperation would be on the agenda, too, as Putin assured that Russia remains open for such collaboration.

One of Moscow's aspirations is a closer partnership among Eurasian Economic Union countries — which along with Russia includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan — and its expansion to cooperation with "big Eurasia," including China, India, Iran and Turkey. According to a report by Russia's Vnesheconombank cited by RBC Daily, the joint share of those states in global GDP could increase to 46% by 2035 from 39% in 2019, coming close to or even exceeding the share of Western economies, which now stands at more than 50%.

Friends in Need

The forum will host a number of sessions devoted to Russia's relations with separate regions and countries, including Egypt, China, Turkey, Africa and Latin America.

It remains unclear in what format Middle Eastern delegations would participate. Last year, Qatar was a special guest at the forum with a grand pavilion presenting investment opportunities in the Gulf country.

Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman last year flew all the way from the kingdom just to participate in the session chaired by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak after which he immediately returned home. It was seen as a sign of great respect for Novak, who is to hold a similar session on global energy balances in the new environment again this year.

There have been talks about a Libyan delegation traveling to St. Petersburg. Tatneft has again said it would resume work in Libya by the end of this year.

Taliban representatives would attend. Recently, there have appeared reports that they are willing to buy Russian energy resources for Afghanistan.

African countries are to come to the forum. Putin met last week with the chairperson of the African Union, Senegal's President Macky Sall, while the chair of the Federation Council, or upper house of the Russian parliament, Valentina Matvienko, has just visited Zimbabwe and Mozambique in preparation for the second Russia-Africa forum. The first took place in Sochi in 2019.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, China could participate via video link. No major deals are expected to be inked with Russia's powerful neighbor, as Beijing currently provides political rather than economic support to Russia. Beyond increasing purchases of discounted Russian crude oil, Chinese companies and financial institutions are largely putting their relations with Russia on hold. Chinese state majors are not in any hurry to pick up assets from Western oil companies exiting Russia, either. Keen to avoid secondary sanctions, firms are waiting for the situation to become clearer, analysts say.

Energy and Bread

Those who would come to St. Petersburg seek Russia's grains, fertilizers, oil and gas. All those topics will be on the agenda.

Rosneft will still hold its traditional energy panel at which CEO Igor Sechin is to give a lengthy presentation devoted to the current trends on the global markets. Usually it was attended by Rosneft's partners, including top executives from international majors and traders, such as BP, Exxon Mobil, Eni, Equinor, Vitol, Glencore, Trafigura and others. It will be interesting to see who will speak this year.

The green agenda that dominated a lot of sessions last year is set to be among the top issues again, especially in light of the doubts about the ambitious strategies for an accelerated energy transition following geopolitical tensions this year. But there are no doubts the issue will regain its momentum again in the longer term.

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