Lessons from the Pandemic and Lessons from History. Day 4 of the Valdai Club Annual Meeting
Sochi, Russia
List of speakers

Traditionally, the culmination of the Annual meeting of the Valdai Club is a plenary session in which the President of Russia participates. This year’s event was no exception. Before that, however, the final, seventh session of the forum was held, titled “Russia as a Solution. What Did the Shocks Teach Russia and How Is This Useful to the World?” It was followed by an open discussion.

The question "What did the shocks teach Russia?" was answered by several attendees, each according to his own perspective: Maxim Oreshkin, Assistant to the President of Russia; Sergey Karaganov, Academic Supervisor and Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics; Valery Fyodorov,  General Director of VTsIOM; and Tigran Khudaverdyan, Deputy CEO of Yandex Group.

The pandemic has become a difficult test for all countries, and Russia, according to the speakers, has coped with it better than many others. It has demonstrated an effective management response to the crisis. Many had considered Russia to be a rigid bureaucratic organism, but over the past year and a half, we have seen a super-flexible policy, one of the speakers noted. So, at the very beginning of the pandemic, despite the historical traditions of centralisation, it was decided that measures to combat it would be primarily taken at the regional level - and this decision was justified.

As for the macroeconomic aspect, Russia is going through the crisis along the optimal trajectory. This year Russia will have a balanced budget, and next year there will be a surplus. This is in stark contrast to the way Western countries have behaved. The US and Europe learned from the 2008 crisis and used massive stimulus to boost their economies, but were unable to stop the virus in time. The G7 countries collectively contributed $5 trillion to the economy. As a result, volatility increased, and energy and food prices increased.

Russia turned out to be ready for the pandemic with its quarantines and lockdowns at the technological level. The course towards digitalisation, taken in recent years, paid off: Russia is at its best in terms of the digital literacy of the population and the readiness of the state to provide digital services. The period of self-isolation brought some discoveries: for example, it turned out that online trading requires not less, but even more human resources than traditional retail. The session’s participants proposed to solve this problem using automation and by introducing robots.

High-level digital solutions would be impossible if the Russian market was not competitive in this area. The presence of foreign technology companies such as Google serves as an incentive for Russian firms - in a dramatic contrast to the approach of China, which simply closed its market to Western services.

The ideological aspect was also touched upon. According to one of the participants, a great power that loses its ideological core either ceases to be great or crumbles away. But ideas cannot be borrowed from the outside. One such alien idea that has done more harm than good to Russia is the idea of ​​parity. Striving for parity with the United States drained the Soviet Union, he noted. Russia should have powerful armed forces, but it should not engage in rearmament beyond reasonable limits and, most importantly, get involved in a power struggle (although relevant experience and traditions certainly do exist).

On this peaceful note, the last session of the Annual Meeting ended, followed by an open discussion - a new communication format first tested at the Valdai Club conference in Kazan. The discussion was held in an open format and a recording of the broadcast is published on the Valdai Club website.