One of the most important business events of the year in Russia and the country’s equivalent of the Davos Forum begins on Thursday, with authorities keen on attracting investment in the world’s largest country, AFP reports.
The St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), held in president Vladimir Putin’s hometown, is Russia’s biggest, oldest, and arguably best-known gathering for global investors. This year, the event is organized against the backdrop of concerns about Russia’s willingness to protect foreign investors, continuing Western sanctions, and Kremlin efforts to woo China.
U.S. officials and top business leaders are staying away from the event. On the other hand, China’s President Xi Jinping will attend the three-day forum, as his country signs multiple investment deals with Russian firms ranging from energy to telecommunications.
Xi will also join a panel at the forum with Putin, whom he called in an interview ahead of this trip his “closest and most reliable friend” among world leaders.
Russia’s business climate faces stiff headwinds for many reasons, including the economic sanctions imposed by the United States, Japan, and European allies for Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, along with alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Adding to the bearish attitudes toward investing in Russia is the arrest of Michael Calvey, a prominent American investor who was detained in February. The 51-year-old businessman, whose private equity fund Baring Vostok has invested more than $2.8 billion in Russia and the former Soviet Union, is under house arrest on charges of financial fraud, which he calls a business dispute.
U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman and American officials are boycotting the St. Petersburg forum, in large part due to Calvey’s detention. Some top executives from major American corporations are also staying away.
Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia (AmCham), said Calvey’s case is front and center for U.S. investors.
“For AmCham and the U.S. community, the unresolved Baring case is central,” Rodzianko told RFE/RL in an e-mail.
“The question in the air is: do the key Russians care about the investment climate or is it written off? Will it become an open season to use these methods against international business?” he said.