The View From the ‘Russian Davos’
Vladimir Putin called on Western leaders to stop “tenaciously clinging to the shadows of the past.”
While the World Economic Forum’s flagship event in the Swiss Alps was recently on the lips of the entire Western world, the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), which took place June 15-18, almost went unnoticed in the mainstream press. Dubbed "Russian Davos," SPIEF's significance and potential impact on the West in the coming months, years, and decades should not be underestimated.
Ever since its inception, SPIEF has served as the leading platform to discuss the economic challenges faced by the Russian state, with a strong emphasis on relations with Western businesses. This year, due to the West’s failed attempt to break Moscow’s back through “economic blitzkrieg” and proxy war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has shifted its long-planned geographical focus to emerging markets (a move that I predicted in 2015 in my report for the House of Lords’ members after the West decided to sanction Russia for its “annexation” of Crimea).
The key theme of this year’s edition was “New Opportunities in a New World.” The event was divided into four tracks: "The New Economic Order: Responding to the Challenges of the Time"; "The Russian Economy: New Objectives and Horizons"; "Modern Technology for Humanity: Building a Responsible Future"; and "Investment in Development as Investment in People."
Like in the past, SPIEF was held under the patronage of the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian leader participated in the event in person. Nonetheless, before the forum commenced, Putin decided to set the tone early, ahead of the historic plenary session planned for June 17, in a statement greeting the participants, organizers, and guests, published on the Kremlin’s website on June 6.
“I am confident that for Russia the 2020s will become a period when the country strengthens its economic sovereignty, which involves the accelerated development of its infrastructure and technological base, qualitative upgrades in the level of training for specialists, as well as the establishment of an independent and efficient financial system,” Putin said.
Despite external attempts to disrupt the event through an apparent cyberattack, which delayed Putin's speech by an hour, participants in the event were ultimately able to listen to Putin’s thoughts on the state of affairs in Russia and new directions the country may take in the years to come. Indeed, just as had been confirmed by Putin aide Yuri Ushakov, the Russian leader's preoccupation with a “multipolar economic model” was highlighted during his highly symbolic speech, which coincided with the 350th birthday of Peter the Great.
In his assessment, Putin made clear that we are witnessing a gradual collapse of not only the global economy but also international institutions. All of these, in Putin’s view, can be associated with the unsustainable unipolar dogmas of the previous world order and Western leaders’ inability to stop “tenaciously clinging to the shadows of the past.”
“[This era] is over despite all the attempts to revive it and hold on to it at any cost. This is a natural process, these changes are a natural course of history because it is difficult to combine the planet’s civilizational diversity, the wealth of cultures with political, economic, and other models,” the Russian leader explained. “These models don’t work here, the models that bluntly, without any alternatives, are being imposed upon from one center,” he further added in a thinly veiled reference to the U.S. hegemony.
In fact, Putin believes that “after claiming victory in the Cold War,” the U.S. persuaded itself and the rest of the world that it plays the role of a “messenger of God on earth, who has no obligations, but only interests.” Nevertheless, the Russian leader reminded SPIEF’s attendees “that over the past decades new powerful centers have emerged around the globe and their voice is heard ever louder,” pointing to the fact that “nothing lasts forever.” Hence, at some point, the U.S. will have to come to terms with the fact that a new world order is emerging. That order, as Putin describes, is the one in which “only strong and sovereign states” will create its rules, while others “will have to become or remain colonies with no rights”.
“[State] sovereignty cannot be partial or fragmentary in the 21st century, all of its elements have equal importance. They reinforce and complement each other. That is why it is important for us not only to defend our political sovereignty and national identity, but also to strengthen everything that ensures the country’s economic independence, its self-sustainability and independence in the matters of finances, workforce, and technology,” the Russian president asserted.
In stark contrast to the original Davos’s globalist agenda, Putin urged big Russian business representatives to link their families’ and corporations' “future with the Motherland” if they want to achieve “lasting success, a sense of dignity and self-respect,” and added that “business is much more than making a profit,” as “contributing to the development of your hometown, region, country as a whole is an extremely important thing for self-realization.”
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Notwithstanding Putin’s bitter remarks and grievances vis-à-vis the U.S. elites, who have been mesmerized by the "great delusion" of liberal hegemony for so long, the Russian president admitted that “the United States is a great power” that “deserves respect.” In his opinion, the “country has a great future,” but only if the political elites refrain from their “arrogance” towards other countries and their own people, and ultimately accept the fact that the U.S.-led unipolar model is no longer fit for purpose in a multicivilizational world.
In 2017, Washington Post published an important essay titled “Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era,” the message of which is still valid if we accept that multipolarity is the new reality. Keeping this in mind, to quote the late Harvard political scientist, we have to understand that the only “constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities,” since only a dialogue of cultures based on international law, rather than a vaguely defined and self-serving “rules-based order,” can safeguard peace and prevent a situation where there is a fight of “all against all.”