AP PHOTOS: Despite dark times, Russia’s economic forum shines

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Bright colors and huge video screens in the halls of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum made the centerpiece look like an upscale Russian mall — except everything was open .

Russia’s annual event to tout its investment opportunities this year has been clouded by harsh international sanctions imposed on the country after the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine four months earlier, and widespread disapproval of foreign companies , which have suspended operations or pulled out entirely, leaving Russian malls filled with dark, shuttered stores.

Some speakers acknowledged that the country had suffered an economic blow. Others turned the data optimistically – inflation, which was once forecast at 17% this year, is now expected to be 16%.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was, as expected, the star of the four-day spectacle. Although giant video screens occasionally captured his face in comical expressions, Putin’s famous energy and stamina were on full display during Friday’s plenary address and lengthy question-and-answer session. .

He said Russia’s fighting in Ukraine was fully justified; the sanctions are reckless and senseless; and Russia’s determination and inventiveness will revive the economy.

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