May.23 - Russia says it's ready for business with outside countries and shrugs off the threat of more sanctions from the West as President Putin delivers a keynote speech at the St Petersburg Economic Forum. Ciara Sutton reports.
It's an economic forum that's attracted global business leaders for years, and led to deals worth billions of dollars. But when Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed this year's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, it was an attempt to win over foreign investors that have been unsettled by the crisis in Ukraine. Putin slammed sanctions leveled on the country by the West, insisting there would be no winners. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT, VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "Isn't it obvious that economic sanctions as a tool of political pressure in the modern interdependent world have a boomerang effect? And finally will affect the businesses and economies of the countries that initiated them?" Many stayed away from the conference, under pressure from the U.S. government, after Russia's annexation of Crimea and the introduction of U.S. and EU sanctions on Moscow. Notable absences included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and key speakers from the likes of BP disappearing from the list. Russian Economy Minister, Alexei Ulyukayev. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RUSSIAN ECONOMY, MINISTER ALEXEI ULYUKAYEV, SAYING: "Unfortunately, some of the investors feel some unpredictable pressure from the authorities in Europe or America. And for the others it's really their decision to be here in such a situation." Sanctions have so far targeted only a few dozen individuals and small firms, but a fresh round could hit the banking sector or the energy industry. The U.S and EU have vowed to punish Russia if it interferes with Ukraine's upcoming election. While Russia is brushing off the threat, some say it's time to consider plan B. Ivan Tavrin is head of Russian mobile operator MegaFon. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MEGAFON, RUSSIA'S SECOND-LARGEST MOBILE OPERATOR, IVAN TAVRIN, SAYING (TALKING ABOUT POSSIBLE NEW SANCTIONS TARGETING TELECOMS): "I think we should be prepared, and we should be ready. And there are several measures which we are taking. If potentially there will be any sanctions of telecom industry, roaming could be hurt, that's true. But we are talking to our partners, roaming partners about that." The government forecasts that Russia could slip into recession by the end of June. GDP fell 0.5 percent quarter-on-quarter for the first three months of the year.