Despite his absence from Vladimir Putin's annual economic showcase - which included such US allied luminaries as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron, China’s Vice President Wang Qishan and IMF chief Christine Lagarde - the conversation kept coming back to President Trump.
Led by an unusually outspoken Putin, Macron - who seemed more enamored with Putin than the rest, agreed with the Russian president's concerns over the erosion of trust and the specter of a global crisis brought on by Washington's disruptions.
“The free market and fair competition are being squeezed by confiscations, restrictions, sanctions,” Putin said.
“There are various terms but the meaning is the same -- they’ve become an official part of the trade policy of certain countries.”
The “spiral” of U.S. penalties is targeting “an ever larger number of countries and companies,” undermining “the current world order,” he said.
Macron replied: “I fully share your point of view.”
Such warnings only confirm Mr Putin’s world view. Without mentioning the US, he complained that the multilateral economic world order was being “crushed” by a proliferation of exceptions, restrictions and sanctions.
The “darkest cloud” on the economic horizon is the “determination of some to actually rock the system,” Lagarde said, prompting Wang, a new point-man for Chinese foreign policy, to agree.
“Politicizing economic and trade issues, and brandishing economic sanctions, are bound to damage the trust of others,” he said.
Putin also expressed frustration at having little contact with Trump and faulted the investigation into whether there was collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia and whether Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election.
"We are hostages to this internal strife in the United States," Putin said. "I hope that it will end some day and the objective need for the development of Russian-American relationships will prevail."
As Bloomberg reports, the panel had its prickly moments. After Putin suggested that Europe depended on the U.S. for its security, and told Macron there was “no need to worry” because Russia would help, the French president shot back:
“I’m not afraid, because France has an army that knows how to protect itself.”
However, the most ominous and direct messages were from Putin himself about changes to the unipolar order.
In his opening statement at the plenary session, Putin says the global economic order is being undermined and that breaking the rules is becoming the rule of the game.
Coming a day after Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that settlements in US currency could be dropped by Russia in favor of the euro.
"As we see, restrictions imposed by the American partners are of an extraterritorial nature. The possibility of...