I am in Saint Petersburg – or Leningrad, as the British Airways announcer insisted on calling it, when they called my flight. I’m not sure what Lenin would have made of the St Petersburg Economic Forum, which is a sort of Russian Davos conference, which is taking place this weekend. Last night, they re-staged the storming of the Winter Palace – only this time the people doing the storming were oil company executives and investment bankers, intent on getting into a champagne reception at the Hermitage. To add a slightly surreal touch, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd was playing a concert in the square outside.
With the oil price hitting new highs, the Russians are in a swaggeringly confident mood. President Medvedev opened the conference this morning and got a standing ovation – simply for walking into the room. In his speech he lambasted the US for “economic egotism” and for “aggressive financial policies” which had plunged the world’s poor into crisis. It was a bit like hearing an old Communist hailing the final crisis of capitalism. (Except that Medvedev also said that he would like to turn Russia into an international financial centre.)