The rich and powerful flocking to Davos this year won’t be forced for once to bear the icy winter wind, but the frostiness toward Russia, whose oligarchs have thrown some of the most famously glitzy parties at the World Economic Forum, will be palpable.
The first in-person meeting in the Swiss Alps of the WEF in two years starts on Sunday after COVID-related interruptions. Even this gathering was delayed from the usual late January schedule, meaning the snow is confined for once to the peaks.
The forum is different in other ways, too. Hanging over the panels, speeches and evening soirees is the reality of a war raging hundreds of miles to the east. President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has put an abrupt end to decades of Russian presence and influence in Davos.
There will likely be a more subdued tone as a whole, with the WEF attended by a clutch of Ukrainian officials seeking to keep global attention on their plight with the war in its third month. A keynote address (via videoconference) will be given by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
It will be the first WEF in Switzerland since the fall of communism without a single Russian official or business leader. Russian companies have been nixed as strategic partners, a group of international businesses that play a prominent part in the calendar of events at a cost of 600,000 Swiss francs ($615,000) per year. Russia House — renown for its chilled vodka — won’t even be set up.
That’s a far cry from the heyday of Moscow’s largess in Davos, when vodka and caviar-fueled parties sponsored by Russians were notorious for hosting large groups of young women without accreditation who claimed to be translators.
Putin’s war has seen unprecedented sanctions slapped on Russia from its political leadership to its oligarchs and biggest companies. International firms have pulled out of the country en masse. Trade and investment from the Europe and the U.S. with Russia has evaporated.
Sanctioned billionaires have been seeking safe haven in various pockets of the world, sending their massive yachts hopping from one port to the other to stay ahead of the law. All of a sudden anything “Russian” is seen as taboo.
The WEF is no exception.
At the last meeting in Davos in 2020, Russian tycoons were the third-best represented by billionaire count. But their future in Davos started to crumble just three days after Moscow attacked Ukraine, when WEF founder Klaus Schwab and President Borge Brende issued a statement condemning “the aggression by Russia against Ukraine, the attacks and atrocities.”