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Hosted by Putin, Leaders of France, Japan Castigate Trump

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The president of France spoke of an “erroneous decision.” Japan’s Prime Minister lamented disruptions to trade. The head of the International Monetary Fund said recent foreign policy positions were “not the right way to go.”

They were not criticizing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom the United States has tried to isolate on the world stage.

Instead, Mr. Putin sat, nodding approvingly, on a stage beside these heads of state and other senior officials at a business forum that veered into what sounded at times like a group-therapy session for world leaders slighted by President Trump.

Speaking to an auditorium of business executives, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he had tried to persuade President Trump to remain in the international climate accord, observe a nuclear treaty with Iran and refrain from moving the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, only to be rebuffed on all three points. Mr. Macron called the embassy move “erroneous.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said he was moving ahead with a trade pact with Pacific nations despite Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal. “This is the kind of fairness we need,” he said of the trade deal. “Unfortunately, the U.S. withdrew.”

Christine Lagarde, the director of the International Monetary Fund, said the Trump administration’s threat to impose tariffs on Chinese goods was rocking the boat of the global economy. A trade deficit is not reason enough to impose tariffs, she said. “It’s a strange complaint,” she said, and “not the right way to go” on trade.

It was a peculiar forum for airing grievances against the United States. At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual gathering for foreign investors and executives who do business in Russia, Mr. Putin was playing host to the leaders of France and Japan, countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia.

The United States, which imposed some of the harshest restrictions, sent its ambassador to the conference with the message that “dialogue and communication is the only way to improve ties.”

Mr. Putin, for his part, spoke of the United States shifting the rules of the international order even as it attempted to police those rules.

“The current situation in the world is such that everybody is playing soccer with the rules of judo,” Mr. Putin said. “So what we have is neither soccer nor judo. It’s chaos.”

The complaints by the French and Japanese leaders play into Russia’s long-term effort to drive wedges between the United States and its traditional allies.

To be sure, Mr. Macron also spoke of France’s long, warm historical alliance with the United States and said disagreements were part of that lengthy friendship. And Mr. Abe, in a speech, drew attention to the lack of a formal peace treaty to end World War II between Russia and Japan, because of a territorial dispute over islands.

The vice president of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Qishan, appeared to be the most diplomatic of all, saying China could learn from America. “America is the only global superpower, in soft power and in hard power,” Mr. Wang said.

The United States and European allies have sought to isolate Russia economically, and have expelled Russian diplomats, over its military intervention in Ukraine, meddling in foreign elections and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

The sign of some fracturing of the Western alliance against Russia came as the Russian economy has been pulling out of a recession that had been brought on by swooning global prices for oil, a key export commodity, and Western sanctions.

Earlier this month, Mr. Putin laid out ambitious economic targets for his fourth term as president of Russia, saying he would increase life expectancy, cut poverty and, improbably, displace Germany as the world’s fifth largest economy.

“Nobody is saying today how are we going to achieve every percentage point of this growth, even though such ambitious targets have been set,” said Aleksei L. Kudrin, an economic adviser to Mr. Putin, and an occasional critic of his economic policies.

Mr. Kudrin, who also attended the business gathering, said Western sanctions had cost Russia about 0.5 percent of growth annually. However, several top officials in Russia expressed hope that disagreements emerging between European nations and the United States over sanctions politics, such as those stemming from disagreement over the Iran nuclear deal, could help Russia break up what had been a united front against Moscow.

Igor I. Sechin, the head of Russia’s national oil company, Rosneft, said the turmoil over Iran policy was responsible for helping to drive up oil prices to levels not seen since 2014.

The Trump administration has recently sent mixed signals on doing business in Russia.

In April, the Treasury Department issued sanctions against seven wealthy Russians. Then this month, the American ambassador, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., encouraged Americans to attend the business forum.

Mr. Huntsman had agreed to provide opening remarks at a panel discussion in which one of the Russians the Treasury Department had just sanctioned, Viktor F. Vekselberg, was scheduled to participate. Mr. Huntsman later backed out of his role with the panel, though he did attend the forum.

An investment firm Mr. Vekselberg once described as his American affiliate, Columbus Nova, paid $ 580,000 to a shell company set up by President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.

“I’m disappointed, I would have loved to have him give welcoming remarks,” Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, said in an interview. But, he said, “a mixed message is better than the message we were getting before.”

Under President Obama, the American policy was to dissuade company executives from attending the economic forum, a gala event backed by the Russian government and modeled on the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.

This year, Mr. Huntsman, Mr. Trump’s ambassador, turned up only to have his boss castigated on stage by the world leaders.

Source: NYT > World

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