High point of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum: Putin on stage"
Gilbert Doctorow (June 16, 2023)
The St Petersburg International Economic Forum got underway on the 14th and today was the culmination point for the broad public in Russia and worldwide: the time on stage of Vladimir Putin in the traditional format of questions presented to him and to a featured visiting head of state by a moderator.
The visiting head of state was President of Algeria Tebboune. His presence at the Forum was all by itself newsworthy, and surely must have shocked France and other Europeans. But then again they might be beside themselves that another top foreign dignitary with whom Putin met privately on the sidelines of the Forum was the President of the United Arab Emirates.
The moderator was for the first time in many years not some pretty woman from MSNBC prepped to ask aggressive and unfriendly questions again and again or some smart Alec from another Western television channel but Russia’s “own” Dmitry Simes. This was the first time in many years that the moderator was not just reading questions but had written them himself.
This is Simes, the former Russian-Jewish emigrant to the United States, former adviser and traveling companion of Richard Nixon on his visits to Russia after leaving the presidency, former decades-long head of the Nixon Center, later renamed the Center for the National Interest.
I have recently written about Simes, describing this born-again Russian patriot. He left Washington to resettle in Moscow and has returned to Russian state television as host of The Great Game and interviewer of some of the country’s leading politicians with whom he clearly has very good personal relations. From his exchanges with the Boss on stage this afternoon, it is also obvious that he is ‘close to Putin,’ as our Western experts so often say without justification about others.
What I propose to offer here is some of the questions and answers that I heard on the fly. I will set them out by relative importance, not necessarily by their sequence in the on stage discussion.
Among the most memorable was the following, which answers directly the panic and confusion in the heads of our Western foreign policy community following the publication a few days ago in the bilingual Russian-English magazine Russia in Global Affairs of an article entitled “A Difficult but Necessary Decision” by Sergei Karaganov, professor and honorary chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. Russia.
I had planned to publish today an essay critiquing Karaganov’s piece and dealing with commentary by several of the prominent personalities in the West, including Seymour Hersh and Rose Gottemoeller. I will now defer completion and publication of that essay till tomorrow, because the answer to all the controversy was given this afternoon by Vladimir Putin in response to a question pitched to him by Simes: “Some people are talking about Russia perhaps using tactical nuclear weapons now to re-instill in the minds of people in the West what nuclear deterrence is all about. Will Russia use these weapons?”
Putin : “The answer is No. We do not plan to use nuclear weapons in this conflict. As I have said, their use is theoretically possible only when the existence of our statehood is threatened. As for tactical weapons, I do not want to lower the threshold for use of any nuclear arms. For purposes of deterrence, there is no need to remind the West that we have a significantly bigger stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons than they do. This is, so to speak, our competitive advantage. We have made our statement by positioning nuclear weapons in Belarus. That is a clear message. We have no need to frighten the whole world.”
Probably the single most important question and answer in the entire session was the following, for which Putin and his assistants were very well prepared:
Question: Russia has spoken about the Ukraine as controlled by neo-Nazis. This is a position which confuses many in the West. How can this be so when the country’s elected president, Zelensky, is himself a Jew?
Answer: And what kind of a Jew is Zelensky? He has made the most vicious leader of the pro-Hitler Ukrainian collaborationists, Bandera, and his military units into the great heroes of the Ukrainian nation. They killed 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine during the war, as well as Russians, Poles and other civilians.
[at this point Putin calls for the screening of a 10-minute documentary showing the mass murders committed by these units, showing their declaring allegiance to Hitler in the annihilation of Jews and purification of the Ukrainian nation
To this, Simes makes his own contribution, saying that in the Soviet Union the head of the domestic security services Kaganovich was also a Jew, and he carried out a program of systematic anti-Semitic repressions. [The origins of a given state authority tell us little about the policies he will enforce.] Question: According to Purchasing Power Equivalence calculations, the Russian economy is now the 6th biggest in the world, coming just after Germany. In present conditions do you think Russia will continue to hold this position?
Answer: “Developing countries are moving ahead very quickly, as for example, Indonesia. At the same time a country like Germany is slipping into recession. Perhaps in a year we will take their place as 5th largest economy in the world.”
Question: As regards the need for skilled workers in Russia, we note that many people, especially in the IT field left Russia after the start of the Special Military Operation. Are they returning?
Answer: “People can live wherever they wish. There are many Russians who left for the United Arab Emirates, for neighboring Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and so forth. However, it is not easy to leave behind Moscow, which is one of the top cities in the world. It is not easy to leave behind your language and your family and friends. The latest information is that 50% have already returned. And those who do stay abroad provide Russia with liaison for our developing relations with these countries.”
Question: Some in the West say that Russia is promoting de-dollarization. What is the future of this movement? Answer: “De-dollarization is part of the changing economic relations and was accelerated by the United States itself when it abused its privileged position and weaponized the dollar for political objectives. Now we see many countries starting to trade in their national currencies. Some sale of oil to China is now being conducted in yuan. If oil exchanges are set up quoting barrels in yuan or in currencies of the Middle East, then the beginning of the end of the dollar will arrive. And we have nothing to do with that.”
Question: Do you consider NATO to be a party in the war in Ukraine? Is there still room for diplomacy if that is so?
Answer: “NATO is getting drawn into the war with Ukraine. They have supplied a lot of heavy equipment. Now there is talk of providing F-16s. As you see in the past week during the Ukrainian counter-offensive, we have destroyed many tanks, including the German Leopards, and also NATO-supplied armored personnel carriers. If F-16s are sent, they will also be destroyed.”
Question: We think back in the past of Western leaders and some outstanding people come to mind, like Gerhard Schroder, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi. What can you say about the quality of the present-day European leadership?
Answer: “I never express my thoughts about the merits of leaders today. What I will say is that Jacques Chirac was a man of encyclopedic knowledge. I remember asking him why the Americans were doing something unpleasant and he said, in Russian: ‘because they are uncultured’ [потому, что они некультурные] Today many people in power have had poor educations. As for Silvio Berlusconi, he was a world class leader who tried very hard to bring Russia into rapprochement with the countries of the European Union. He died this past week, and I ask you all to honor his memory in a minute of silence.” [the audience rises as one]
Question: How will Russia respond to the terror attacks from Ukraine, as for example the incursions in Belgorod,, the murder of Dugina and other provocations?
Answer: “They would like for us also to attack civilians, but we will not do so. However, by our missile attack which destroyed the American Patriot air defense system in Kiev we demonstrated that we have the ability to destroy any building in Kiev at our choosing. We have not done this yet, though we reserve the possibility. We have not done so, because we have no need to do so. We have used air and sea launched missiles to destroy Ukrainian military targets very effectively.
Question: There are those in the West who say that the sanctions have forced Russia to become very dependent on Chinese markets, Are you afraid of falling under Chinese influence?
Answer: “And those same countries in the West who say this have themselves become very dependent on China. And are they any the worse for that?”
Question to Tebboune: Algeria is surely under very strong pressure from the West to join the sanctions against Russia. So far you have resisted that. What do you tell them?
Answer: “I say that we Algerians were born free and will remain free!”
Question: What final words do you have for the world?
Answer: (Putin) – “Be healthy and wealthy”
(Tebboune) “Live in peace, prosperity, security”
Final question to Putin: If this gathering took place in the United States, one would necessarily ask Biden as the closing question what message he wanted to give to President Putin. And so I ask, what is your message to Joe Biden?
Answer: “Mr. Biden has long experience in government and I would not propose to offer him any advice. I would only say to him that all actions you may take have consequences.”
In past years, I reported on the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in broader terms of the business being done there, the big names from international corporations who were on panels, and so forth. This year I received an official invitation to attend and gave it some thought…until I read through the list of 150 or more panels and understood that a lot has changed in the nature of the event. The panels themselves were mainly directed at issues of great importance to Russia as it reorganizes to face the new challenges of reindustrialization and reorientation of its export-import channels away from Europe and towards Asia, Africa and Latin America. I saw virtually no Western firms mentioned in the program. And even the contingents of Chinese and Indian firms and government officials which were very large in the past were not reflected in the composition of panelists. One obvious reason is that in the past couple of months there have been very big visits of Russian business delegations to both countries and little was left for discussion in the Petersburg Forum.
And yet, the presence of large delegations from Algeria and the United Arab Emirates was noteworthy and points to where Russia’s future is developing. It also underlines the West’s loss of the Global South and self-marginalization.
This very reorientation of Russia and its growing popularity in what used to be called the developing countries brings to mind a comment from the leading Russian film director Karen Shakhnazarov on last night’s Vladimir Solovyov talk show. Shakhnazarov said that Russia is now reassuming the role of global champion of a new world order that the Soviet Union assumed at the start of the 1920s. In this context, the enmity of the Collective West today is an expression of its frustration that it has “lost” Russia, which it would rather have kept on its side.
That comment was allowed to stand unchallenged, although Solovyov himself is a believer that the West is out to destroy and break up Russia, rather than to bring it back under its control.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023