Russia dominates WEF even in its absence

This year, the building has been rented by Ukraine after the World Economic Forum decided not to invite Russian officials and business leaders to Davos in response to the war.
Russia dominates WEF even in its absence

By ASHUTOSH PANDEY

Russian voices still reverberate at the former Russia House in Davos much like in the past, only this time they are not reaching out to prospective investors. Instead, they are the voices of Russian soldiers talking to people back home about their military activities in Ukraine. Rechristened the “Russia War Crimes House,” the Russian residence in the Swiss Alpine town since 2018 is being used by a Ukrainian charity to expose Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.

“This is an example of what Russia has done to itself by becoming a state of war criminals,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during his virtual address to Davos participants on Monday, referring to the renaming of the Russian house. The Russia House, organised by the Kremlin-backed Roscongress Foundation, was a key constituent of Russia’s sales pitch to the global investor community in Davos. In 2020, the last time the Davos crowd convened in person, the house hosted more than 2,000 participants from 85 countries, including US billionaire Ray Dalio and Qatari royal family member Sheikh Ali Alwaleed Al Thani.

This year, the building has been rented by Ukraine after the World Economic Forum decided not to invite Russian officials and business leaders to Davos in response to the war. The house, located prominently on the Davos Promenade, features an exhibition where thousands of photographs of Ukrainian victims of the war have been edited together into a film with voices of Russian soldiers playing in the background.

“This used to be the place where Russia presented itself to the world. For us, it’s incredibly important that we speak here about the reality of Russia,” Bjorn Geldhof, one of the curators of the exhibition, said. “What we have shown is not only how gruesome it is, but how enormous it is, how many actions, how many crimes were committed against Ukrainians. Every body you see is a citizen who was shot and killed by a Russian soldier,” the artistic director of the PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv told DW.

Ukraine is being represented by its biggest-ever official delegation in Davos. A host of events and sessions have been dedicated to the war-ravaged country, which Ukrainian delegates and business leaders hope will exhort governments and corporations to continue supporting their country. “If we tell the story of this tragedy as loud and wide as possible, it will save some lives. We hope it will prompt politicians around the world to send weapons [to Ukraine] quicker, and impose even more severe sanctions [on Russia],” Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, whose eponymous foundation is behind the Russia War Crimes House, said during the exhibition’s opening ceremony on Monday.

For many attending the Davos summit, the WEF’s decision to ban Russia is a welcome one. “I do not think that at this particular point you can engage in any meaningful dialogue with Russia. We have tried that,” Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a Ukrainian lawmaker, told DW.”I think lessons have to be learned. Russia has to be defeated and ensure that it is weakened to the point that it is not capable of waging another war against anybody.”

It’s the first time since the fall of communism that there is no Russian presence at the annual meeting of the world’s rich and powerful in Davos, which has become all too familiar with parties thrown by Russian oligarchs to charm foreign investors. Whether it was flying in Olympic figure skating stars for a private show or organising a concert by Enrique Iglesias, the flashy high rollers did everything to serenade the world’s elite. Looking beyond parties and investment deals, the Davos summit has had a key place in Russian history.

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