» St. Petersburg Diary »
Oil Is Will
When you are in St Petersburg—described in Czarist times as "the sheer triumph of will over possibility"—it’s good to remember that both Putin and Medvedev belong to that very city. To understand Russia today you have to understand Putin. And that to understand Putin, locals insist, you have to remember that Putin is fundamentally a businessman. The local cognoscenti whisper in hushed tones about a recent TV interview of President Medvedev’s wife, saying she does not want her husband to be treated as a puppet (the current in-joke description for him). And Putin, they say, has retorted from his White House in a laconic manner that has traces of forewarning. Is a clash about to erupt? But palace intrigue and ‘Soviet-style’ utterances are not the dominant flavour of Russia today. It’s all about oil and gas. The most popular toast in the ornate bars in the city of the Czars is now "you, me and oil-and-gas"—the currency on which the new Russia clearly floats. After all, oil and gas today account for 50 per cent of Russia’s budget revenues and 65 per cent of exports. The "New Russia" is the reason why I am part of this extremely closed-door partners-only think session of Europe’s finest corporate intelligence honchos. We are assessing the future of the Russian economy, as part of our effort to understand the bigger picture of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) domination of global economics tomorrow. Mention India and connected insiders whisper conspiratorially, "Our ambassador in your country is ex-KGB, you know!"