Though Monday’s terrorist attack on the metro in Russia’s second largest city St. Petersburg has understandably stolen most Russia-related headlines during the past few days, a couple events took place in the city concurrently which are worthy of some attention.
President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Russia’s “northern capital” where he held a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – Moscow’s on again, off again ally with whom relations have been strained in recent months. The meeting appears to have been cordial.
Putin also attended the 4th Media Forum of the All-Russian People’s Front, a government-sponsored civil society organization meant to unite people from across the political spectrum. About 500 journalists were in attendance from around Russia, and the event was held in “town hall” format – continuing Putin’s tradition of holding frequent town hall style Q&A sessions with both the media and members of the public.
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Of particular note was a question on the continuation of sanctions against Russia. President Putin clarified that while he makes decisions based on the assumption that sanctions will one day end, Russia’s also prepared to go its own way should the West be determined to obstinately continue its pointless trade war:
I base my actions on the premise that these sanctions aren’t forever. But if they do [last forever], we’ll always limit the market flow of merchandise which we can produce ourselves…we’ve used these sanctions to fight back – not to harm ourselves, but to help ourselves.
In other words, Putin plans for the unfortunate scenario where European leaders wise up and lift their self-destructive sanctions, when Russia might be forced under the rules of the WTO to let back in (generally superior) European products – but until that time Russia’s native industries will bask in the benefits of economic protectionism.
Since the imposition of trade sanctions against Russia by the US and EU following Crimea’s reunification with Russia, Europe’s economy has suffered billions in losses. Moscow’s retaliatory sanctions against EU imports meanwhile, has spurred a boost to certain sectors of Russia’s economy, particularly agriculture.