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Russia Day at Davos
This is 'Russia Day' at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which opened Wednesday, and the day will wind up with a gala 'Russian dinner' on the theme, 'Russia: What's Ahead?' Among others here for the annual forum in this Alps' resort city are Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksey Kudrin, presidential adviser Andrey Illarionov, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, Severstal board chairman Aleksey Mordashov and Troika Dialog President Ruben Vardanian. More than 2,000 politicians, government officials, business people and economists from some 94 countries are here for this 34th Davos forum. Among them are about 30 heads of states and governments. The overall forum theme this year is 'Partnership for Security and Prosperity.' Russian politics are unlikely to be a major topic at this year's forum, which finds far more interesting the status of the dollar, the price of oil, the condition of the US and other major economies, the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea and the threat of world terrorism. The 'Russian crisis' has moved to the periphery, according to Russian presidential adviser Andrey Illarionov, as interest shifts increasingly to the development of the Russian economy, with its now six consecutive years of growth. Indeed, the organizers of the Davos program, Illarionov said, believe that 'Brazil, China, India and Russia have the potential of becoming world leaders in the next 20 years.' It was at Davos four years ago that the now legendary question--'Who is Mr. Putin?'-was first heard. 'Our president has answered all the questions with his reforms,' said Aleksey Kudrin, who heads the Russian delegation. In an interview with the journal Itogi, he further stated: 'There is a new image of Russia: it is now seen as a place to do business. Every investment company that looks at our budget-2004, our most liberal budget of recent years, and sees the level of hard-currency reserves, inflation projections, debt projections and the eased rules for the movement of capital knows there has been real improvement in the Russian investment climate.' Kudrin acknowledged that there would be talk about the YUKOS situation in Davos. He told the interviewer: 'As to absolutely any company in any civilized country's obligation to pay its taxes and not cheat, that, I assure you, is not a matter for discussion at Davos or anywhere else.' Notably, he said, the world is increasingly interested in Russia's opinion on global questions. Kudrin will himself be answering questions from guests at the dinner that will wind up Russia's day. In addition, he plans bilateral discussions with US Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Lidia Shuleva, Israel Deputy Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, Swiss treasury chief Hans-Rudolf Merz and with the president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Aleksey Mordashov, Severstal's chief, is looking forward in particular to a meeting of the heads of metallurgical enterprises on the question of the expanded European Union (EU) and Russia's possible role. 'It is now obvious that the success of Russia's metallurgical companies depends on how well they integrate in the world market and in globalization generally. The EU market, as it stands and after it is enlarged, holds great promise,' Mordashov told a Rosbalt correspondent. Russia's successful entry in the world market, Mordashov said, 'hinges on improving the way our businesses are run. They have to be more effective. For that reason, I'm specially interested in the session on corporate management, a traditionally important theme at Davos. As I see it, Russian business has already come a long way. But there is no one ideal way to run a business, and exchanges of experience on this score are likely to be very productive.' As a kind of confirmation of Mordashov's view, the newspaper Vedomosti quoted Philip Worman, chief analyst for developing markets of the London-based Risk Advisory Group, as saying the main risks of doing business in Russia remain the poor quality of corporate management and non-transparency. Worman also spoke of possible political risks arising if President Vladimir Putin adopts a policy of deprivatization. It is now a regular Davos feature that Russian leaders from the right of the political spectrum come to Davos. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky is set to address two sessions this year, on Russia's role in European integration and a second on preventing government infringements of human rights. Irina Khakamada, a candidate for the Russian presidency, plans to discuss the election situation in Russia and the outlook for Russian cooperation with the EU in meetings with EU General Secretary Xavier Solana and Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament. Anatoly Chubais, chairman of the management of United Energy Systems Russia, will be holding talks in Davos with his foreign counterparts on the outlook for the energy market in Russia and on problems of energy system security, Rosbalt was told by the energy holding's press service. He is also expected to take part in discussions of the effects of EU widening on its neighbors. A major item on Chubais' Davos agenda is talks with Georgia's new president, Mikhail Saakashvili, on deliveries of electricity from Russia. Almost the entire Georgian power grid is controlled by UES. Incidentally, Russian-Georgian relations are clearly at the center of attention in Davos, and Saakashvili looks like being Davos-2004's hero. Yesterday he warned against conceiving of Russian-Georgian relations as that of center to colony and called for developing 'serious economic ties,' a matter that he is likely to be discussing in planned meetings with Illarionov, Chubais and Vagit Alekperov, president of LUKoil. At the same time, Saakashvili did not refrain from once again calling for Russia to move its military bases from Georgia as quickly as possible in that 'they do not guarantee the security of either country.' He declared: 'No terrorist danger threatens Russia from Georgian territory.' The critical temper of the new Georgian leader did not faze Russian presidential adviser Illarionov, who said the more complaints about Russia at Davos the better. 'They point us in the direction of our shortcomings and mistakes. That is very good. That is what the forum is all about,' he said.
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