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March 10, 2015

St. Petersburg Seeks International Events as Russia's Politics Shift

At Convene 2015, held recently in Lithuania's capital city of Vilnius, Eastern European destinations from Russia and Belarus met their Baltic counterparts. Among the exhibitors were representatives from St Petersburg's new exhibition and convention centre, ExpoForum, which opened last year.
It was nearly a year ago, when the Global CEO Summit was held in St. Petersburg amid deteriorating relations between the Russian Federation and its western neighbors as the former annexed Crimea from Ukraine. At Convene 2015, Ekaterina Nedelina from ExpoForum (the new convention and exhibition facility in St. Petersburg financed by Gazprom) put out a call for the MICE industry to put politics aside and encourage the international association community to bring their congresses to Russia, demonstrating how the meetings and convention industry can be deployed to ease tensions during times of political strife.

“We are here,” she said, “to deliver [the] message that we are open, that we are ready for dialogue and [that] we are not making any politics in St. Petersburg or ExpoForum. We are trying to develop business relations.”


Broken Promises 
During Convene 2015, hotels in the Lithuanian capital were experiencing 100 percent occupancy not just because of the conference, but because NATO forces were undertaking “exercises,” and the presence of NATO troops on Russia's border was doing little to ease the tensions. Former UK Business Journalist of the Year Paul Colston of Mash Media's Conference & Meetings World noted that NATO's broken promises over expansion East, as well as the bombing of Belgrade, are not the basis for trust, and that Russia could well reconsider what it signed up to. 
Reassuringly, such an unlikely assault on member states of the European Union (Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia are full members) by Russia was confirmed by breakfasting American military personnel who, at the halfway mark of Convene 2015, departed suddenly.
And so, politics aside and US counter-intelligence seemingly unconcerned, Nedelina welcomed attendees to Russia's former imperial capital, complete with intellectual capital and national associations in fields of transport & logistics, education, and medicine, and home to the State Hermitage Museum, the government buildings and palaces and the historic University.
After Glasnost, International Associations Will Have A Responsibility
But history counts for nothing when the immediate impact of international trade sanctions compound Russia's unwelcome over-reliance on oil and gas. Her energy resources account for over 45 percent of GDP - and at current rates, even with a Futures Market anticipating long term rates tagged at $70-80/barrel, she is facing an economic catastrophe.
Even this recent blog only allows for Russia to stay out in the cold for the remainder of 2015 before her economy joins Greece in the abyss. While this presents frightening choices to Russia under her current hawkish regime, hope springs eternal. Paradoxically, Russia's economic decline - compounded by its shrinking commodities and markets - may well prevent her ability to gear up for war. Her finance minister warned recently that the country could no longer afford a multibillion-dollar upgrade to its armed forces that had been approved by President Putin
Perhaps Nedelina's openness to dialogue, or China's trading colonization of Africa, offer Russia's leadership some alternatives to the emergence of nationalism and a return to long term Cold War – or worse.
If a new glasnost does emerge, then Russia must diversify and she will require the political will referred to by Gary Grimmer of Gaining Edge in order to implement a transformational strategy built on knowledge development.
Upstream, the city's recent entry on to the international convention bureau stage, announced at EIBTM in Barcelona last year, coincided with the opening of the new ExpoForum. If and when relations allow, these institutions and their scientific and industrial ambassadors will provide the infrastructure and connections for international associations to lead the healing process.

For now, the Eurasian powerhouse will have to look eastwards for its immediate events, at least until the bear comes in from the cold. But international associations should note that a week in politics is a long time and that securing access to a deep seam of knowledge, and potential membership, should not be ignored when planning a congress five years hence. At that time, Baltic neighbors may well be witnessing a Russian rapprochement.
International associations will have a responsibility to bring to an end the string of broken promises.

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About the Author: James Latham

James Latham





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