Goodbye Italy, hello Azerbaijan. The 15th edition of the Verona Eurasian Economic Forum – attended in the past years by Russian ministers, entrepreneurs and personalities, many of whom are now under sanctions – is moving to Baku, where it will be held on October 27-28.
- Conoscere Eurasia Association remains the event’s organiser. It’s chaired by Antonio Fallico, President of Banca Intesa Russia and Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation in Verona since 2008.
- There’s no official explanation for this change of scenery, and the organiser didn’t drop “Verona” from the Forum’s name. There’s only a passing mention of holding the event in Azerbaijan (which, unlike Italy, is well within Russia’s sphere of influence) to “[reaffirm] its essential and meaningful international presence, amplified by its own great trade and economic potential.”
What’s “hush” in Russianomics? As first reported by Verità & Affari, the event’s programme talks about the “transition to a new, human-centred economy” and refers to “changes taking place” in trade, the financial system and geopolitical relations. And yet it never mentions what triggered them, namely the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- For instance, one session is organised “with the support of Rosneft” (Russia’s state oil company, sanctioned in the West together with its chair Igor Sechin). That event will take stock of “the new reality of commodity and energy markets.”
- More sessions will be devoted to geopolitics: “from a monopoly crisis to a multipolar world order,” “new logistics and transport routes,” and natural gas – currently weaponised by Russia to undermine Europe’s stability – which the programme calls “a key resource for the economy of the future.”
Hiding behind the Pope. The event’s website places great emphasis on a statement that Pope Francis sent to Mr Fallico on the occasion of the Forum’s 2017 edition. The pontiff greeted the participants by wishing “that international economic entities will effectively work to develop dialogue and cooperation aimed at ensuring the well-being of peoples and taking care of our’ common home’.”
- The choice of reusing this message is hardly accidental, as those in the West who are more inclined to heed the Kremlin’s version of facts often hide behind the pretence of “pacifism” and the Church. Even though Francis “has unequivocally condemned the Russian aggression of Ukraine since day one,” as Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, told Limes.
- As for recourse to arms, “the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for recourse to legitimate defence for peoples attacked,” he added with reference to Ukraine’s plight.
Radio Kremlin is on. There’s no talk of the war in Ukraine on the event’s agenda. However, Mr Fallico had made ample reference to it in his opening speech (PDF) at a seminar in Moscow, which he held on February 10 – two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, all activities of the Conoscere Eurasia Association have been suspended in Italy: hence the move to Baku.
Mr Fallico’s speech was saturated with talking points straight out of the Russian propaganda playbook. A few extracts:
- “Throughout its entire history, Russia has never attacked anyone first. Instead, it always defended itself;” it’s “a natural and reliable ally of European countries;” “imagining a security architecture for Europe without Russia is a dead end.”
- “We must avoid the false pretexts of the past, which have had tragic consequences,” noted Mr Fallico. Citing Vietnam, Kosovo and Iraq, he hoped “we do not come up with some other pretext, a casus belli that could lead to an unprecedented tragedy, for today’s crisis in Ukraine.”