The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin spared neither money nor effort when he hosted African leaders at the Africa Summit in St. Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad) from 27th to 28th July 2023. The choice of St. Petersburg was deliberate. The City has its own remarkable place in history.
The city of Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on 27 May 1703. It became the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1712–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg ceased being the capital in 1918 after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
On 1 May 1703, Peter the Great took both the Swedish fortress of Nyenschantz and the city of Nyen, on the Neva river. Tsar Peter the Great founded the city on 27 May 1703 (in the Gregorian calendar, 16 May in the Julian calendar) after he reconquered the Ingrian land from Sweden, in the Great Northern War. He named the city after his patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter. The original spelling in three words Sankt-Piter-burkh (Санкт-Питер-Бурх) uses Latin: Sankt, as in Sankt Goar and some other European cities (it is a common misconception about the “Dutch cultural origin”; for local versions, there are Sant or Sint in modern Dutch. Besides Netherlands, Peter the Great also spent three months in Great Britain so it is preferable to speak about the general European experience which influenced the tsar.)
St. Petersburg is actually used as an English equivalent to three variant forms of the name: originally Санкт-Питер-Бурх (Sankt Piter-Burkh), later Санкт-Петерсбурх (Sankt Petersburkh), and then Санкт-Петербург (Sankt Peterburg). The full name is often substituted by the abbreviation SPb (СПб). Sankt was usually confined to writing; people usually called it Петербург (Peterburg) or the common nickname Питер (Piter). Petrograd (Петроград), the name given in 1914 on the outbreak of World War I to avoid the German sound of Petersburg, was a Slavic translation of the previous name. The name was changed to Leningrad (Ленинград) in 1924.
The city was built under adverse weather and geographical conditions. The high mortality rate required a constant supply of workers. Peter ordered a yearly conscription of 40,000 serfs, one conscript for every nine to sixteen households. Conscripts had to provide their own tools and food for the journey of hundreds of kilometres, on foot, in gangs, often escorted by military guards and shackled to prevent desertion, but many escaped; others died from disease and exposure under the harsh conditions.
The new city’s first building was the Peter and Paul Fortress, which originally also bore the name of Sankt Petersburg. It was laid down on Zayachy (Hare’s) Island, just off the right bank of the Neva, three miles inland from the Gulf. The marshland was drained and the city spread outward from the fortress under the supervision of German and Dutch engineers whom Peter had invited to Russia. Peter restricted the construction of stone buildings in all of Russia outside St Petersburg so that all stonemasons would come to help build the new city.
At the same time Peter hired a large number of engineers, architects, shipbuilders, scientists and businessmen from all countries of Europe. Substantial immigration of educated professionals eventually turned St. Petersburg into a much more cosmopolitan city than Moscow and the rest of Russia. Peter’s efforts to push for modernization in Moscow and the rest of Russia were completely misunderstood by the old-fashioned Russian nobility and eventually failed, causing him much trouble with opposition, including several attempts on his life and the treason involving his own son.
Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712, nine years before the Treaty of Nystad. Called the “window to Europe”, it was a seaport and also a base for Peter’s navy, protected by the fortress of Kronstadt. The first person to build a home in Saint Petersburg was Cornelis Cruys, commander of the Baltic Fleet. Inspired by Venice and Amsterdam, Peter the Great proposed boats and coracles as means of transport in his city of canals. Initially there were only 12 permanent bridges over smaller waterways, while the Great Neva was crossed by boats in the summertime and by foot or horse carriages during winter. A pontoon bridge over Neva was built every summer.
Peter was impressed by the Versailles and other palaces in Europe. His official palace of a comparable importance in Peterhof was the first suburban palace permanently used by the Tsar as the primary official residence and the place for official receptions and state balls. The waterfront palace, Monplaisir, and the Great Peterhof Palace were built between 1714 and 1725. In 1716, Prussia’s King presented a gift to Tsar Peter: the Amber Room.
Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov, Peter’s best friend, was the first Governor General of Saint Petersburg Governorate in 1703–1727. In 1724 St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences was established in the city. After the death of Peter the Great, Menshikov was arrested and exiled to Siberia. In 1728 Peter II of Russia moved the capital back to Moscow, but four years later, in 1732, St. Petersburg again became the capital of Russia and remained the seat of the government for about two centuries.
The African leaders who attended the Summit included the Vice-President of Nigeria, Alhaji Kashim Shettima; Ibrahim Traore of Burkina Faso; Paul Biya of Cameroun; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, etc.
Vice President Kashim Shettima says Nigeria is now at a new dawn to chart and re-position its destiny for greatness going by the current measures adopted by the Bola Tinubu administration to diversify the economy and address emerging challenges.
Mr Shettima stated this while addressing political and business leaders at the second plenary session of the Russia-Africa Summit held in St. Petersburg on Friday.
“The government is taking decisive steps to fight crime, punish offenders, directly tackle the insurgency, and do everything necessary to secure lives and investments in the country,” he said.
Highlighting the Tinubu administration’s economic agenda, Mr Shettima said, “We have resolved and are firmly determined to consolidate on industrialising Nigeria and diversifying its economy into sectors that the country has a comparative advantage.
The administration of President Tinubu recognises the private sector as the engine of growth and a veritable partner in our economic agenda and will therefore give the fullest possible support to foreign and domestic investors.
The administration has identified key growth drivers and sectors that are very important to the diversification of the Nigerian economy, including power, transportation, infrastructure, maritime, agro-processing, mining, manufacturing, petrochemicals, food processing and textiles etc. The Nigerian government considers these sectors as key priority areas that will drive the country’s economic agenda,” the VP added.
Speaking further about investment opportunities in Nigeria, Mr Shettima said, “In view of the current geopolitical situation, we must begin to think of real-time investment in addition to trading in commodities. We call on Russian companies to take advantage of the vast potentials in Nigeria, being the largest market in Africa, to invest in strategic areas and to derive maximum benefits.”
On peace and security, the VP said, “No meaningful development can take place without peace. The Russia-Ukraine crisis is impacting all nations in different ways.