Will Russia’s ‘window to Europe’ be closed for good?

Will Russia’s ‘window to Europe’ be closed for good?

President Putin attends a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg. (REUTERS)
President Putin attends a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg. (REUTERS)
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Amid wonderful sunshine, the “Russian Davos” — the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which hosted guests from 130 countries — opened last Wednesday. While walking from the Winter Palace toward the monument to Peter I, the so-called Bronze Horseman, in the Senate Square — a monument to a ruler who opened a “window to Europe” — I thought about the irony that, despite having been influenced by a kaleidoscope of Western architectural styles and having become the “Venice of the North,” St. Petersburg now hosts a platform for new ideas on developing the “foundations of a multipolar world,” in which the discussions were on how to open windows to everywhere except Europe.

This was reflected in the main thematic blocks of the forum, including sovereignty in all spheres, deglobalization and the transformation of the global economy, international cooperation, and social priorities in domestic policy and health.

This year’s four-day St. Petersburg International Economic Forum was unique for several reasons, reflecting Russia’s current foreign policy, in which the economy clearly plays a key role due to the ongoing sanctions. The window to Europe is closed (at least for now).

First of all, by observing the program, the utilization of smart power — a combination of hard and soft power strategies — can be seen in Russia’s strategic policy. Among more than 200 events, there were sections on economic hard power that were dedicated to the key drivers of economic growth and sustainable development of the country’s internal resources, such as high-quality subsoil use and the development of tourism and the creative industries. The business reputation index and data from the National Rating of the Investment Climate in the regions of Russia were also presented.

Furthermore, Russia aims to bring the processes of soft power closer to those of economic hard power by discussing and working on subjects such as “Combining cultures and traditions in contemporary cross-cultural projects,” “The image of the hero: How modern cinema and media respond to the demands of the state and society,” and “Development of infrastructure of cultural facilities as a driver of development of the state’s cultural economy.” Therefore, the first lesson on Russia’s strategic direction is its aim to integrate soft power into hard power in its policies toward so-called friendly states.

The utilization of smart power — a combination of hard and soft power strategies — can be seen in Russia’s strategic policy

Dr. Diana Galeeva

Secondly, a great deal of attention was paid to discussing the BRICS economies. Events included: “BRICS goals in the context of the new world order,” “Transition finance: Opening up opportunities for the energy transition in BRICS,” “Development of BRICS cooperation in the diamond industry,” “The role of the BRICS countries in ensuring global food security,” and “Great cultures: New opportunities for the development of creative interaction among the BRICS countries.”

The rationale is clear, as the BRICS countries play a key role in ensuring global food security. They account for more than a third of the world’s food production and produce more than 40 percent of all fertilizers, thanks to which more than 4 billion people are provided with food.

This special focus is not a coincidence, as Russia chairs BRICS this year and hosts both the upcoming forum in October and the affiliated BRICS Games multisport event this month. Therefore, Russia’s multilateral diplomacy must be stressed as, in addition to BRICS, it seeks strategic economic development through the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Greater Eurasian Partnership in the fields of financial technologies and culture, global food security, intercultural projects and ecology.

Russia has also sought to further boost relations through a “pointed approach” of developing ties with strategic regions and countries, including in the Middle East and North Africa. During last week’s forum, discussions on bilateral relations took place with the UAE, China, Oman and Africa.

An interesting dynamic was that of the active participation of the delegates from Oman. In 2023, the volume of mutual trade between Oman and Russia increased by 60 percent. An agreement was signed last week to prevent double taxation, opening up new opportunities for expanding the trade and investment exchanges between the two countries.

Russia has also sought to boost relations through a “pointed approach” of developing ties with strategic regions and countries

Dr. Diana Galeeva

The discussions explored which areas of economic and investment cooperation between Russia and Oman are promising, considering the possibility of Russian input into the realization of Oman Vision 2040. The Omani delegates seemed to use soft power techniques in return, bringing to the forum a translated book of Omani proverbs to show its cultural heritage and focusing on similarities between the two countries.

In addition to discussions on further boosting ties in trade, the energy sector, the localization of products, bilateral investments and geological exploration within the context of Oman’s Renaissance 2.0, Muscat also aims to win hearts and minds in Russia with the “Omani Empire: Asia and Africa” exhibition in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums.

Such discussions on aspects of the global economy lead to broader debates on the current multipolar world and the economic interests manifested there. For example, in discussions on “Philosophy and geopolitics of a multipolar world” and “Architecture of the world order: A view from Russia,” Russia’s views on the concept of the “world majority” were presented and stressed.

However, as one of the high-level speakers noted, a theoretical alternative world order would need to be accepted by all sides, including the so-called collective West. Another speaker emphasized the length of time required for such processes and also that, for one side, the process will end badly. Either Russia and its strategic partners will successfully develop alternative payment and economic systems, logistics and transportation corridors or the existing instruments based on Western interests will continue to be attractive for the “world majority” countries.

This would also be reflected in the balance of power in a multipolar world structure. How the world will look with a multipolar structure remains in the distant future — and how far Russia will reach with its “Russian Davos” remains a mystery.

To continue the metaphor, whether Russia and its inner circle of allies in this confrontation with the collective West will reopen the window to Europe in order to be integrated into Western-based economic instruments or completely shut it remains unclear. What is crystal clear is that the forum’s guests enjoyed the atmosphere of the host city, showing that St. Petersburg, where the annual White Nights Festival has now begun, has a magnetism for investors and businesses alike.

Dr. Diana Galeeva is an academic visitor to Oxford University. X: @Dr_GaleevaDiana


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