The rich and powerful flocks in Davos this year will not be forced to endure the icy winter winds once and for all, but the snowfall against Russia, whose oligarchs have thrown some famous dazzling teams at the World Economic Forum, will be clear.
The WEF’s first private meeting in two years in the Swiss Alps begins on Sunday after a cove-related interruption. Even this gathering was delayed from the end of January schedule, which meant that the snow was confined to the peaks for once.
The forum is different in other ways too. Panels, speeches and the reality of a war hanging in the evening that is going on hundreds of miles ahead. The decision by President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine marked the abrupt end of Russia’s decades-long presence and influence in Davos.
Overall there will probably be a more subdued tone, with a clutch of Ukrainian officials present to draw worldwide attention to their plight with the war in the third month of the WEF. A keynote address (via video conference) will be delivered by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
This will be the first WEF in Switzerland since the fall of Communism without a single Russian official or business leader. Russian companies have been designated as strategic partners, an international business group that plays a prominent role in the calendar of events at a cost of 600,000 Swiss francs ($ 615,000) per year. Russia House – famous for its cold vodka – will not even be set up.
This is far from the biggest day in Moscow in Davos, when Russian-sponsored vodka and caviar-fuel parties were notorious for hosting large groups of young women without recognition as translators.
Putin’s war has led to unprecedented sanctions from Russia’s political leadership to his oligarchs and largest companies. International organizations have largely left the country. Trade and investment between Russia and Europe and the United States have evaporated.
Authorized billionaires are seeking safe haven in various pockets around the world, sending their huge yachts from one port to another to stay in line with the law. Anything that is suddenly “Russian” is seen as forbidden.
WEF is no exception.
At the last meeting in Davos in 2020, the Russian tycoons were the third best represented by the billionaire count. But their future in Davos began to crumble just three days after Moscow’s Ukraine invasion, when WEF founder Klaus Schwab and President Borge Brande issued a statement condemning “Russia’s aggression, aggression and atrocities against Ukraine.”
This is in stark contrast to Russia’s behavior since Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Although Russia’s official presence in Davos has declined, its billionaires and business leaders have not downgraded their profile.
“We have friends here,” said VTB Chairman and CEO Andre Costin, who flocked to the Alps in 2015 to enjoy Switzerland’s long-standing policy of neutrality. Ukrainian friend, European friend, American friend. ”
Although some business relationships were affected by the ban, “it does not affect personal relationships,” said Costin, a frequent Davos attendant at the time.
That year VTB threw a shower at the Intercontinental Hotel at the ski resort, where visitors were greeted by women in conical, gold flaked clothing with strips of neon-LED lights around them. The caviar was served and the party-orchestra was performed by guitarist Al de Meola, Russian Kroner Leonid Agutin, and party-orchestra by Amir Kusturica and The No Smoking Orchestra.
Although the party did not coincide with the absurdity of events hosted by metal tycoon Oleg Deripaska over the years (styled after a Russian log house), it attracted a strong crowd, including Shoaib. Although he usually stays away from private events, he said he was there to “welcome our Russian friends to Davos” and to show “after all, Russia is a very important European country.”
For Russia’s post-communist history, the WEF has played an important role.
The conference cemented its reputation as a milestone for the Russian elite in 1996, when several tycoons agreed to combine their media resources and financial strength to support Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign in what became known as the “Davos Accord.”
The size and visibility of the Russian delegation has grown over the past two decades, attracting heavyweights during the presidency of then-President Dmitry Medvedev and in 2009 when Putin was prime minister.
In 2011, a Russian investment bank called a “spectacular ice show” hosted by figure-skating stars.
Russia threatens to boycott US businessmen in 2018 after banning Victor Wexelberg, Deripaska and Kostin. The Kremlin says organizers have reversed plans to ban them from participating.
Putin spoke at the Covid-era virtual forum last year, drawing a parallel picture of current international tensions in the run-up to World War II and the 1930s. He used his speech to warn the world to lean towards “against all” conflict.
Now its invasion of Ukraine has led to clashes on EU borders, killing thousands and forcing millions to flee their homes.
Some Russian tycoons have pointed fingers at the Kremlin, while others have tried to distance themselves from the presidential war.
Deripaska, whose sanctions have put him on the Putin list, called the war “insane” in late March. He warned that the war could continue for “a few more years.”
Soon it will not be enough to invite him somewhere like Davos again. Multiple breakfasts, panels and evening events featuring Ukrainian officials have already been booked.
For Russia House, the plan is to rebrand it. The Victor Pinchuk Foundation, a philanthropic group named after its tycoon supporters, wants to turn the site into a “Russia War Crimes House” with an exhibition on war crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine.
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