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Alistair Darling Chides Russia’s Mix of Business and Politics

At the depleted (read near empty) Russian Economic Forum, UK Trade Secretary expressed his unease over the anti-competitive impact of Russian economic nationalism.

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About time: UK Trade Rep Alistair Darling is no longer amused by Russia’s interventionist antics

Russia must stop mixing politics with business and steer clear of economic nationalism, a British minister said on Tuesday at a Russian business conference that has been boycotted by Russian officials and state-linked firms. “Commercial considerations should be paramount. Oil and gas companies should not be used to exert political pressure,” Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said at the Russian Economic Forum, the flagship conference for Russian business. … “Around the world we are seeing an increasing trend towards protectionism, putting up barriers to trade that will make us all poorer,” Darling said. “We are seeing the growth of economic nationalism. It won’t work. Protectionism dressed up as patriotism is still protectionism.” The Kremlin’s critics say in addition to bullying others with Russia’s oil and gas wealth, it has used a variety of underhand means to pursue its energy strategy, including trumped-up environmental claims, vastly inflated back-tax demands and rigged auctions. … Darling said investors needed to have trust in Russian law. “We’ve got to be absolutely clear that the relationship between our two countries and between the European Union and Russia will only prosper if there’s legal certainty, there’s openness and that when people strike a deal, the deal is stuck to,” Darling told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference. “But I think it’s important that we engage with them in a positive way. Russia actually needs investment from outside. If it’s going to get that investment, we’ve got to be clear what the rules are.”

Unfortunately, Secretary Darling, it is precisely this willingness to indiscriminately throw capital into Russia that is preventing any positive changes from taking place. After all, if the current course is being actively tolerated and sometimes openly embraced, who would the leadership be inclined to change?