The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum this year turned out to be the least international in its history. On the one hand, what else could one expect in the second year of the pandemic, when many borders are still closed, new strains of coronavirus are walking around the world, and the Russian Federation is in the very tail by the proportion of the vaccinated population. It would be surprising that the SPIEF is generally held in person – many events, such as Davos, never went online.
On the other hand, there are few foreigners even for a pandemic. Suffice it to compare the program of the SPIEF and the April Boao Economic Forum, the main business event of the PRC, as well as the visiting regional sessions of the same Davos. In St. Petersburg, Qatar became an important guest, Germany, France, Italy and Finland hold traditional business dialogues with Russian partners, there are events in Latin America and Africa – but that’s all. Almost no one came from China. Large corporations, with rare exceptions, are represented by heads of local divisions; foreign “stars” can be counted on one hand.
It is unlikely that problems arose exclusively of a sanitary and epidemiological nature, and it is doubtful that foreigners were pushed away by the increased cost of participation. More probable reasons are in the state of the Russian economy, to which the forum is mainly devoted.
After falling by 3% in the crisis year of 2020, GDP may grow, according to forecasts by the Central Bank and the Ministry of Economy, to 4%, that is, it will not reach the level of 2019. There are no significant factors for Russia to grow faster than the global average, as it is not the first year that high-ranking SPIEF participants have noted this with sadness. With consumer demand even worse, household disposable income has been declining since 2013, and in the absence of rapid growth, even the targeted payments announced by the president are unlikely to change the picture.
Accordingly, it is difficult for foreign companies to expand their business in Russia – there would be no loss of what you already have. Actually, the overwhelming majority of foreigners at SPIEF are representatives of companies already operating in the Russian Federation and striving to maintain their positions.
Apart from the numbers, it is unlikely that foreign business can strongly inspire the mainstream of the economic discussion in Russia, with its inclination towards isolation. Since 2014, panels on sanctions have long been a routine for SPIEF like sessions on taxes or artificial intelligence. Digital sovereignty, de-dollarization, replacement of foreign technologies are topics that can delight officials and businesses close to the authorities, but foreigners who do not work in Russia.
The modest but eloquent stand of the Prosecutor General’s Office hardly improves their mood. And also the “Audience Award”, which he received the other day.