Conflicting signals from Putin and Medvedev over Russia’s Davos boycott

The Bell

What happened

In response to the decision to ban Russian tycoons under U.S. sanctions from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Russia has threatened to boycott the event. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he would forbid officials and executives from state-owned companies from attending. But after Medvedev’s comments, Putin said businesses should decide for themselves if they want to participate. Now, confused officials don’t understand if they can go or not.

  • Dmitry Medvedev threatened a boycott of Davos on Tuesday if the forum’s organizers don’t reconsider their decision to disinvite Russian businessmen named on the U.S. sanctions list. These include billionaires Victor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska, as well as Andrei Kostin, the head of state-owned bank VTB. The boycott was immediately backed by the executives of major companies, including former economist-reformer and now head of state-owned Rosnano Anatoly Chubais. But the following day, Putin sent a new signal. He said Russia’s reputation wouldn’t suffer from non-participation in Davos, but that Russian businessmen are free to make their own decisions.
  • As a result, those planning to travel to Davos are in a quandary. “We are in an unclear situation: Medvedev said ‘boycott’, Putin gave his permission, but not to us, just to businesses… no one knows if the government will send a delegation or not. We are awaiting a decision,” one government official told The Bell.
  • But while officials wait for a coordinated position to emerge, at least three major Russian firms have disappeared from the list of the forum’s sponsors: Kostin’s VTB, Vekselberg’s Renova and the anti-virus software producer, Kaspersky Lab, which is not under sanctions, but is being investigated by the U.S. for cooperating with Russian security services and, for all practical purposes, remains banned from operating inside America. VTB was one of Davos’ strategic partners and a source told the The Bell that sponsorship of the forum had cost the bank up to 1 million Swiss francs ($993,000).

Why the world should care:

The confusion generated by Putin’s comments suggests that Russia isn’t happy about completely giving up its participation in major international events.

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