Eventica Rebrands London Forum

The organizers of the Russian Economic Forum said Wednesday that they were rebranding the London-based event in an apparent attempt to rekindle interest in the annual gathering that saw a last-minute pullout of participants last year.

This year's event, billed as "Russ!a Investment Roadshow," will be a "brand new concept" for the forum, event organizer Eventica said in a statement.

The three-day forum has gathered top Russian and foreign businessmen and government officials in London for a decade.

Last year, however, all Russian government officials and several high-ranking business leaders pulled out at the last minute amid speculation that the Kremlin had advised them to stay away as a protest over Britain's refusal to extradite businessman Boris Berezovsky.

The Kremlin has denied that it was behind the no-show.

The poor turnout in London stood in stark contrast with that at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June, where President Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev topped the bill.

A spokesman for Eventica, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that some changes to the London forum's format were only natural after several years.

"We've needed to freshen it up and do it a bit differently," he said, adding that this year the forum would like to put more focus on investment opportunities in Russia and on Russian companies expanding abroad. But he added that it would be "disingenuous" to say the changes had nothing to do with last year's events.

He acknowledged that attracting participants might not be easy because of the March 2 presidential vote and more importantly, the heightened diplomatic tensions between Russia and Britain, most recently over the closure of British Council offices.

The Eventica spokesman expressed hope that bilateral ties would soon improve. "Things can't continue the way they are," he said.

The 11th Russian Economic Forum is scheduled to take place April 20 to 22, at its usual central London venue, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.