Russian President Vladimir Putin is to speak on May 23 at an international business forum in St. Petersburg that is being boycotted by the leaders of dozens of Western companies in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the Ukrainian crisis.
Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov says Putin will share his vision about global economic problems and how Moscow plans to improve Russia’s economy in the face of “no easy situation in world politics.”
In a May 22 message to participants at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin said the forum is devoted to “ways of strengthening confidence in an era of change.”
Putin said global development can continue only if the international community “presents a common front, ensures mutual respect for each other's interests, and builds up constructive bonds established over years."
In a demonstration against Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis, the chief executives of more than three dozen international firms have canceled their plans to attend the annual St. Petersburg forum this year after appeals from the U.S. government to boycott the event.
Putin’s speech comes as Russia faces international sanctions -- and the threat that entire sectors of its economy could be sanctioned in the future by the European Union and the United States -- over the annexation of Crimea and reports of Kremlin support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
On May 22, after 14 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes with separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of trying to escalate the conflict in order to derail Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election.
Yatsenyuk said even if Russia is pulling back its 40,000 troops from the border with Ukraine as Putin claims, the move is irrelevant.
Yatsenyuk says that’s because “professionally trained” mercenary fighters from Russia are actively carrying out attacks and other provocations in eastern Ukraine.
In Moscow, Ushakov dismissed the boycott of the St. Petersburg business forum by Western CEOs as ineffective – claiming that more than 400 representatives of firms in the EU and the United States are attending.
Ushakov said top executives from BP, E.ON, Total, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Philips, Caterpillar, and Danone are at forum events – despite what he called “blatant and unprecedented pressure on the part of the American administration” for a boycott of the gathering.
However, the chief executive of Germany’s E.ON – as well as the heads of Deutsche Bank and the engineering giant Siemens – have confirmed that they are not participating in the forum this year.
After his speech to the St. Petersburg forum on May 23, Putin plans to meet with the heads of infrastructure investment funds from the United States, China, France, Italy, Bahrain, Kuwait, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.
Putin also is scheduled to have bilateral talks later on May 23 with China’s Vice President Li Yunchao and Mongolia’s Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and ITAR-TASS