ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The bright colors and huge video screens in the corridors of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum gave the showpiece gathering the air of an upscale Russian mall — except that everything was open.
Russia’s annual event to tout its investment opportunities this year was shadowed by the stern international sanctions imposed on the country after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine four months earlier, and by the extensive disapproval of foreign businesses, which have suspended operations or pulled out entirely, leaving Russian shopping centers pocked with dark, shuttered stores.
Some speakers acknowledged that the country suffered a strong economic blow. Others optimistically spun the data — inflation once projected to be 17% this year now is projected to be 16%.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was, as expected, the star of the four-day show. Although the giant video screens occasionally caught his face in comical expressions, Putin’s famous energy and stamina were on full display in Friday’s address to the plenary session and lengthy question-and-answer session.
He said Russia’s fighting in Ukraine is fully justified; the sanctions are reckless and insane; and Russia’s determination and inventiveness will revive the economy.