Budget For St. Pete Forum Cut By 25%

The budget for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum has been cut by a quarter this year, and foreign companies are being allowed to become sponsors for the first time, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina told reporters Wednesday.

The three-day forum, Russia's most important annual economic event, begins June 4, with President Dmitry Medvedev opening the plenary session on the second day with "his own assessment of the global economic situation," Nabiullina said.

Last year's forum -- which, like this year, was officially sponsored by Gazprom -- included lavish parties and high-profile entertainers, such as Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters. The St. Petersburg city government alone spent 716 million rubles (then $31 million) to help organize the event.

"This year, the budget for the forum has decreased considerably, but this is because operating expenses have dropped," Nabiullina said, without elaborating. She also said the government had worked out a discount deal with St. Petersburg hotels for forum participants.

Last year, many businessmen, including Mirax Group chief Sergei Polonsky, complained loudly that the city's hotels had jacked up their prices during the forum.

Nabiullina said some 2,000 delegates were expected to attend, 300 fewer than in 2008. Already confirmed attendees include 600 Russian and foreign business executives and official delegations.

Heads of state will also attend, and the president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has been the first to confirm her participation, Arkady Dvorkovich, Medvedev's top economic adviser, said at the news conference.

Dvorkovich said many companies were "trying to work out deals" before the forum and that reporters could expect a host of announcements. He did not say whether the volume of the deals signed this year was expected to exceed last year's $14.6 billion.

The forum, now in its 13th year, has traditionally been the premiere event for Russian companies and foreign investors to announce and sign major partnerships. This year, it will also be divided into two parts: economic and financial, Nabiullina said.

The forum sessions and roundtables, many meditated by top government officials and CEOs of global corporations, will be "more democratic and interactive" this year, Dvorkovich said.

The forum will host closed dinners and meetings to grant the heads of major international companies direct access to Medvedev and First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who oversees the country's economic partnership with foreign businesses and governments.

"We want to give everyone the opportunity to ask questions, to exchange experiences, to criticize and lay forth their opinions," Dvorkovich said.