“The unipolar model of the world is over,” declared Vladimir Putin last week. “The global picture has completely changed”.
The St Petersburg International Economic Forum was less well-attended than usual. During previous visits to this annual “Russian Davos”, now in its eighteenth year, I’ve regularly been mown-down by American and West European CEOs, as they’ve purposefully stomped down carpet-tiled corridors, their retinue of aides and cameras in tow.
This year, while plenty of Western executives did make the annual trek to Russia’s beautiful second city, keen to sell more cars, soap powder and financial services in Europe’s most valuable consumer market, the corridors were safer. Many of the top business names stayed away. The sanctions imposed on Russia in response to events in Ukraine put Western business leaders under pressure. Fearing unsavory headlines, and often responding to specific government requests, some of our best-known corporate pole-climbers gave “Putin’s vanity summit” a miss.