Troika Skating Party, Kudrin Charm Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Troika Dialog brought Russia to Davos -- and the invitation-only party offered a lot more than five Moscow chefs sending meat pies and blini out of the kitchen.

Simply put, the glitzy gathering with Olympic stars at the Valliant Arena Ice Stadium on Thursday night was the place to be for investors wishing to see Russia's best side. For investors with lingering reservations, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin sat down with them at a private meeting the next day.

Worries about Russia's future were far from people's minds Thursday night. Kudrin, the highest-ranking Russian official to attend this year's World Economic Forum, which ended Sunday, joined at least 200 guests in enthusiastically applauding from the bleachers as 17 champion skaters twirled on the ice below. Among the skaters were Evgeny Plyushchenko, Tatyana Navka, Roman Kostomarov and Irina Slutskaya.

"Spectacular," VTB board member Olga Dergunova said.

After the show, which included a fireworks display, guests got a chance to skate with the stars and rub shoulders with Russia's most influential people in a rink-side tent, including billionaires Viktor Vekselberg, Sergei Pugachyov, David Yakobashvili and Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Rabbi Berl Lazar and Google co-founder Sergey Brin also joined the party.

Russia's turnout this year was the largest-ever for the annual meeting of business leaders and politicians, and the Russians faced investors brimming with questions.

The one-hour private meeting Friday with Kudrin, IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman and Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Kirill Androsov was filled to capacity, said Christophe Weber, the forum official who moderated the discussion.

"The room was absolutely full," Weber said. "There was huge -- huge -- interest in Russia, not only from European companies but Indian companies and other companies. Everybody wants to know what will happen next in Russia."

Weber said investors' main questions were linked to the presidential election in March, inflation and other economic issues, and how to connect with Russian government officials.

Fifty-one Russian participants had been scheduled to attend the forum, but Weber said even more showed up. He could not immediately provide a figure. One person who did not attend, however, was Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina. Weber said she canceled at the last minute because of a pressing engagement with Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

Despite the high turnout, Russia's participation was lower profile than last year, when First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stole the spotlight as the head of the Russian delegation. Medvedev skipped the forum this year to focus on the presidential election, which he is expected to win. Forum officials hope he will return next year as the first Russian president to visit Davos.

The Troika Dialog party far outshone the Russia reception last year, which was organized by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and featured conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko. One U.S. journalist, who has worked in Moscow for over a decade and has attended five Davos forums, admitted to being left speechless. "It was quite an effective way of giving a good image to Russia," she said. "It gave you a positive feeling about the things that are right about Russia."

Before the ice-skating show, guests gathered in the stadium's third-floor Nordside restaurant for dinner. Russian vodka and French wine flowed as a guitarist-violinist duo played hopped-up versions of Russian folk music. Waiters dressed in Russian folk garb rushed out appetizers of kholodets, olivier, vinegret, herring, blini, red caviar, assorted pies and pickled cabbage.

Ruben Vardanyan, chairman and CEO of Troika Dialog, declined to say how much the evening had cost. "It cost a lot of money, but it is worth it," he said. "We want to show the new Russia."