Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Russia’s billionaires to prioritize nationalism over personal gain and to make investments domestically to support the country’s economy in the face of Western sanctions.
Putin spoke directly to Russia’s business elite for the first time since the day he sent his troops into Ukraine on February 24 of last year, telling them their responsibility was to support society in addition to making money.
“A responsible entrepreneur is a real citizen of Russia, of his country, a citizen who understands and acts in its interests,” Putin said.
“He does not hide assets offshore, but registers companies here, in our country, and does not become dependent on foreign authorities.”
He praised the “high mission” of businesspeople who looked out for their employees and used their talents not just for personal gain but also for the good of society.
The event was attended by billionaires Oleg Deripaska, Vladimir Potanin, Alexei Mordashov, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg, Viktor Rashnikov, Andrei Melnichenko, and Dmitry Mazepin, whose businesses include fertilisers, metals, and banking.
In order to create a more vibrant economy that would “noticeably improve the quality of life of people throughout the country,” Putin said he was interested in their ideas.
Despite being greeted with a standing ovation, he was giving Russia’s wealthiest a harsh message: they should consider the needs of the nation more than their own financial well-being.
When he met with them at the outset of the conflict, Putin informed them that he had no choice but to start his “special military operation,” effectively pressuring them to give their public approval.
The West subsequently imposed sanctions on many of the tycoons, known as oligarchs, which Putin has used as evidence that investing domestically is safer. He informed business executives last month that common Russians had no sympathy for the seizure of their yachts and mansions.
On Thursday, the president claimed that sanctions intended to destroy Russia’s economy had failed. However, he also conveyed a sense of urgency by saying that the nation could not afford to be complacent.
“I understand perfectly the threats that are taking place and what the ill-wishers are telling us, saying that Russia will have problems in the medium term. Yes, this is a threat we must keep in mind,” he said.
“I urge you not to wait for these negative consequences of this medium term to come … You need to act right now.”
The government, which is dealing with a growing budget deficit, plans to impose a windfall tax that will raise about 300 billion roubles ($3.9 billion), but it won’t apply to oil, gas, or coal companies. This is the clearest indication yet that demands on big business are increasing.
According to TASS news agency, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the tax would be set at roughly 5% of excess profits. The tax will be imposed legally starting in 2024, but the finance ministry anticipates that businesses will pay this year as well, he said.
Russia hopes to experience economic growth this year following a 2.1% decline in 2022. Maxim Reshetnikov, the minister of economy, told the congress that the GDP and investment would increase this year but avoided providing estimates.
A return to pre-conflict levels of prosperity may be far off, however, as more government spending is going towards the military. Last year, the economy surprised observers by demonstrating unexpected resilience in the face of sanctions.
Putin has effectively put a significant portion of the economy on a war footing, with defense factories producing weapons, ammo, and equipment around-the-clock.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)