International Economic Forum opens in St. Petersburg, in midst of crisis and sanctions
by Nina Achmatova
Renamed the "Russian Davos", the event this year takes place in the shadow of Western sanctions over Ukrainian crisis, and the boycott of some large American companies. Moscow is self-assured, bolstered by mega agreement on gas supplies to China.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Against the backdrop of Western sanctions on Moscow over the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) opened May 22. For over 18 years the event has brought together international business and the heads of the institutions of Federation to the extent it has been nicknamed the "Russian Davos".

With the theme " Sustaining Confidence in a World Undergoing Transformation", the event aims to show Russia's main foreign investors that it is still a necessary and reliable partner, despite the escalation of political-diplomatic tension.

The organizers wanted to emphasize that this year more than ever.  They promise "lively" discussions and a "quality" program despite the desertion of some top managers of Western companies behind alleged pressure from the United States. According to the newspaper Kommersant, the total number of foreign managers to participate in the forum was down 40% compared to last year.

As anticipated by the Izvestia newspaper, those U.S. companies boycotting the forum, include Visa , Boeing, PepsiCo, ConocoPhillips and Cisco Systems. Officially citing different reasons for their absence from St. Petersburg, others who will not be present incliude the president of Siemens Joe Kaeser , chief of Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen and the CEO of the Norwegian oil company Statoil Helge Lund and Johannes Teyssen of E.ON. France's Total SA , however, will be present with the CEO Christophe de Margerie.

Instead those who have confirmed their participation include Donald James Umpleby III , president of Caterpillar Inc.; Franck Riboud , Chairman and CEO of Danone and Kim Jung Rae of Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. Together with them Frans van Houten, CEO of Royal Philips Electronics NV; Robert Dudley , CEO of British Petroleum and Mike Nolte, vice-president of Mercedes -Benz Russia.

The Ukrainian crisis has generated even greater pessimism among foreign investors, as revealed by a recent report from the Association of European companies (AEB): According to 40% of respondents - between March and April - the development of foreign investment in Russia over the next 2 -3 years is destined to fall (in 2013 the figure was 12%).

Despite this and the general slowdown of the Russian economy, the atmosphere is still that of "business as usual" for Moscow, who will exploit the SPIEF to make a show of strength with the usual parade of ministers, oligarchs and top managers of 450 of the largest Russian companies (Gazprom , Rosneft, Sberbank , Rusal , Lukoil ) .

At an institutional level, President Vladimir Putin - due to address the forum today - will be the highest-ranking politician present.  The Head of State has just returned from Shanghai with a mega deal in his pocket to the tune of 400 billion US dollars.  Under the deal Russia's Gazprom will guarantee gas supplies for the next 30 years to China's CNPC, an agreement that the Russian newspapers have called "a nightmare for Europe".

 

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