Tony Blair appears at St Petersburg International Econonomic Forum, hours after he is offered a post advising the President of Ukraine
By Matthew Holehouse, Ljubljana
Mr Blair this morning appeared alongside Russian bankers and government ministers at the St Petersburg Economic Forum, a pet project of Vladimir Putin modelled on the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The forum, designed to put a modern, dynamic face on Russia’s ailing economy, has been avoided in recent years by Western companies at the encouragement of the British and US governments following the annexation of Ukraine.
Mr Blair told an audience of Russian businessmen how they could improve their performance by following the lessons of his delivery unit, which he introduced in Downing Street to speed up school and hospital reforms. He did not comment on the occupation of Ukraine, or on the sanctions that followed.
His unannounced visit to Putin’s hometown came hours after Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, announced he had offered Mr Blair a role on his advisory committee.
Mr Poroshenko hailed Mr Blair as a “true friend of Ukraine”, the president’s office said in a statement.
It continued: “In his turn, Tony Blair expressed firm support for Ukraine, its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. ‘You are now facing great challenges in the spheres of security and reforms,’ he said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Tony Blair shake hands during their meeting in Kiev (AP)
“The British politician emphasized that the world community had a great desire to support Ukraine and asked the President what practical international assistance was necessary for Ukraine.
“Petro Poroshenko invited Tony Blair to share his experience of public administration within the Advisory International Council of Reforms under the President of Ukraine.”
Mr Blair appeared on stage in St Petersburg in a session hosted by Herman Gref, the chief executive of Sberbank, an entity which has been hit by US sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea and the presence of Russian troops and tanks in eastern Ukraine.
Mikhail Abyzov, a Russian businessman and government minister, and Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister, sat alongside him.
The session, entitled “Crisis Mitigation Policies: The Need for Government Reform”, took an awkward turn after Mr Gref conducted an anonymous electronic poll of the audience as to whether they felt Russia was capable of economic reform. They voted against, by a margin of two to one, to quiet laughter. Mr Gref made clear he disagreed.
His appearance in the region gives a tantalising indication of where Mr Blair’s interests may now lie.
His network of business interests, clients and contacts already stretches across the world, providing advice to an oil firm in Saudi Arabia, JP Morgan Chase Bank in the US, and governments in Kazakhstan, Romania and Mongolia. He has built up extensive network of contacts in China.
Travel documents seen by the Telegraph show one trip in February 2012 saw the former PM take in Israel, UAE, Qatar, China and Kazakhstan in a single week, while conducting a mixture of charity work and private business.
A spokesman for the former Prime Minister said: “Mr Blair participated on a panel talking about the need for government reform.
“He discussed leading reform programmes and improving the delivery of public services, having established the Delivery Unit while Prime Minister and worked on the issue of governance since leaving office. He received no fee.”
On Ukraine, the spokesman added: “The President asked him to join his reform council yesterday on a voluntary basis, but no decisions have been made at this stage.”