Blog: "Difficult and beautiful" in Russia
Simon Warburton | 19 March 2015
Russia still a magnet for luxury brands
Despite fears numbers would be down, this year's Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) kicked off in Moscow with a healthy attendance that belied the undoubted economic challenges the country faces.
Yes, some stayed away as almost unprecedented headwinds of sky-high inflation, steep interest rates, a depreciating Rouble and plummeting oil prices, combine to depress confidence, but the audience was large and eager to discuss how to get through the latest crisis.
I'm writing this at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, whose name I'm still struggling to pronounce and after an intriguing conference taking in the economic temperature of Russia today.
I've got the Moscow Times in front of me, which features a certain President Vladimir Putin, whose reappearance this week, sparked endless conspiracy theories as to his ten-day absence.
The paper's front page neatly encapsulates the twin faces of Russia at the moment, with a souvenir plate embossed with what it has translated as "Crimea is Ours," while underneath is the story of energy giant, Gazprom, struggling with falling demand.
Russian government officials this week said 400,000 jobs in the country were directly involved with automotive, while up to 4m were affected through trickle down.
The Kremlin is actively trying to stimulate the market with its scrappage scheme, while also addressing the tricky issue of accessing finance, a problematic issue with interest rates at 14%.
Delegates this week were extremely aware of the challenges they face, but they also remained supremely optimistic they would get through them.
Talking of challenges, I managed to learn the Russian this week for how to buy a ticket on the stunning Metro. After hestitatingly saying the words to the seller, I was slightly amazed she handed over the ticket after having understood me.
"Difficult and beautiful" was how one Russian speaker described her native language to me and that perhaps goes for the country too.
I'm starting to get a small idea of the scale of things here in China, but really, I'm only scratching the surface of this vast country....