#8 - JRL 7038
January 28, 2003
Davos without fistfights
The composition of Russia's delegation to the Davos forum could have provoked a large-scale public scandal -- such irreconcilable figures as Anatoly Chubais and Andrei Illarionov travelled to Switzerland together. Fotunately, a public row was avoided.
As a matter of fact, Russia's businessmen and politicians have long since calmed down and are no longer as unpredictable and emotional as they used to be (the infamous public shouting match between Yavlinsky and Zyuganov on the eve of the presidential elections seven years ago is a prime example). It could be said that all their notorious statements ended with the crisis of 1998 when the politicians and businessmen suddenly got more important things to do.
The forum's importance for Russia's oligarchs has also decreased, especially when compared with 1996, when the decision to support Yeltsin in the elections was taken in the corridors of Davos. This is hardly surprising, as the country's business elite has discovered many new places abroad where business can be discussed in equally pleasant surroundings.
It does not mean, of course, that Russia's economists have stopped visiting Davos. Vice president of the aluminium major Rusal and former Finance Minister Aleksander Livshitz told the press before leaving for Davos that the forum's main advantage was the opportunity to meet top businessmen from all over the world in just a few days. This is the reason everybody goes there and the leaders of Russia's corporations, which are gradually acquiring the traits of trans-national companies, are no exception.
The purely business orientation of this year's Davos forum was also noticeable due to the fact that the Russian delegation was headed not by the prime minister, as usual, but by Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref. The minister was satisfied with all the meetings he had in the framework of the forum. He has noted that the discussions were of an ''extremely positive'' character. Before leaving Davos Gref told reporters that an understanding had been reached on many positions while discussing investment projects in the energy sphere with foreign businessmen, including joint projects on delivering Russian natural gas to Europe and the problems of Russia's entry to the World Trade Organisation.
Gref said that the representatives of Europe's economic community expressed their support for Russia's integration into the European economic space.
The minister said he had delivered a Russian outlook on the subject. ''Russia needs a clear signal on strategy, essence and precise terms of integration into the European economic space.'' It looks like the minister has not heard the precise date when this signal will be given, but he was unlikely to have expected it.
The public row between Anatoly Chubais and Andrei Illarionov, which journalists had anticipated might flare up, did not materialise either. All major scandals between the two seem confined to the past. The feud between the chief of the national energy grid and the presidential economy advisor rose to prominence in late 2000, when the two exchanged insults during a live broadcast on national television and nearly ended in a fistfight after the programme, according to some sources. A couple of months later, at a top-level conference in Moscow, Chubais demonstratively ignored Illarionov's offer to shake hands.
Since then, the two officials have preferred to continue the dispute by proxy. And in Davos, no real discussion actually took place. Illarionov, together with Gref, spoke at a meeting of Russian and Western businessmen, at which the issues of the investment climate in Russia were discussed. The presidential advisor spoke of Russia's contribution to world stability and economic growth, forecasted the split of OPEC, as he has done before and did not say a word about energy sector reforms in Russia. Anatoly Chubais, in turn, spoke to press only about these reforms, complained that they were being stalled and altered but without actually mentioning Illarionov by name.
As a result, the forum passed off without the expected scandals, which also proved to be a bit of a surprise to the foreigners. As Gref put it, the European delegates saw Russia in a new light.