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Clara Ferreira Marques

The Weakness of Putin’s Economic Show of Force

A rare public speech was supposed to be the high point of a gathering displaying Russia’s financial clout despite Western sanctions. The detail is less flattering.

The rhetoric could not paper over the gaps.

The rhetoric could not paper over the gaps.

Photographer: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images


Vladimir Putin’s appearance on the third day of the St Petersburg economic forum, the Kremlin promised, would be an “extremely important” intervention. And it was. The Russian leader’s lengthy address, a rarity since the invasion of Ukraine, was a flame-throwing show of defiance and blame-shifting, a remarkable snapshot of a state of mind that leaves little hope for compromise. It was also a staggering display of weakness that even presidential bluster could not mask.

First, the context. Putin has avoided high-profile public speeches over the past four months, keeping his Victory Day speech brief and pushing back other mainstays of his calendar, like his televised “direct line” question and answer session, a multi-hour marathon that is a crucial part of Kremlin political theater and efforts to burnish the president’s image as benevolent patriarch. So it matters that he went ahead with the flagship address at an investment gathering Russia has long touted as its answer to Davos, the elite Alpine get-together, thumbing his nose at the West.