‘A difficult time’ World leaders and business titans set to skip Putin’s annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg
The 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is set to kick off tomorrow, June 15. Its official topic? “New Opportunities in a New World.”
The SPIEF, which has taken place under the auspices of the Russian president since 2006, is traditionally attended by business heavyweights and high-ranking officials from around the world. But against the backdrop of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the ensuing standoff between Russia and the West, and most international companies pulling out of Russia, the once prestigious event has become, to quote Bloomberg, “radioactive.”
In 2019, the SPIEF’s organizers reported that an unprecedented 19,000 people from 145 countries had attended the forum, including UN Secretary General António Guterres and China’s Xi Jinping. In 2021, the event hosted some 13,500 people from 141 countries — despite restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
Only 115 representatives of “countries and territories” have reportedly confirmed their participation in the June 15–18 SPIEF. According to Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is set to attend, as well as other (unspecified) heads of state. This year’s guest list also includes a representative of the Afghan Taliban and a minister from Myanmar’s military government.
Putin’s traditional speech is scheduled to take place at the SPIEF plenary session on June 17. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that this “extremely important” address will focus on “anti-Russian sanctions.” The plenary session itself will be moderated by RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik — the leaders of the Kremlin-controlled “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine — are also supposed to attend the meeting.
As reported by RBC, some of the forum’s guests are trying to keep their participation under wraps. The SPIEF’s organizers admitted that they had to deny requests from some participants to have the companies they work for left off their name badges. A “top manager” also told RBC that large Russian companies fear that taking part in the forum could make them targets for Western sanctions. Allegedly, some companies went so far as to pay participation fees through intermediaries.
That said, not all Western businesses are boycotting the forum. As Bloomberg noted, “leaders of business organizations in Moscow representing France, Italy, Canada and the U.S. are listed by SPIEF’s organizers as taking part.”
In a June 6 Telegram addressed to the SPIEF’s participants, organizers, and guests, Putin lamented that the forum is taking place “at a difficult time for the entire international community.” He then blamed global inflation, supply chain issues, and a sharp increase in poverty and food shortages on “many years of economy policy mistakes from Western countries and illegitimate sanctions.”
The forum’s program contains little mention of Ukraine. However, the Kremlin’s so-called “special military operation” is set to be discussed as part of a session about “Fake news in the era of globalization,” attended by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharov, Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein, and pro-Kremlin pranksters Vovan and Lexus, among others.