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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communist Leader Steals Davos Show

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Russia was not represented by a single top member of its executive branch. Maybe such top-level representation is beyond the call of duty when it comes to this meeting of international business leaders held annually in the Swiss resort. But in past years, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has come twice, and last year former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais journeyed to the forum.


Chubais returned this year, but in a different capacity, leaving the Russian ministers and governors in attendance leaderless.


By the second day of the forum, it was clear that the most important person from Russia was Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.


Zyuganov obviously could not serve as head of the Russian delegation. But the interest shown in him in Davos made him not only the Russian to meet, but one of the forum's key guests. Zyuganov doled out autographs in the lobby of the Sunstarpark Hotel, and interviews, up to 20 a day.


Zyuganov hobnobbed with major business leaders, made appearances and gave press conferences that were standing room only. The impression was that the West was already prepared to recognize him as the next president.


But one of the main reasons for the Communist leader's popularity among the Cold War veterans on hand in Davos could be found in the Kremlin and the White House. The withholding of months and months of back wages and the war in Chechnya have driven many voters into the arms of the Communists.


This is the second year in a row that Yeltsin has disappointed the forum. If he had come last year, he would have been the superstar. If he had kept his promise and come this year, he would have prevented Zyuganov from being the superstar.


Yeltsin reneged, saying there weren't enough people of his rank in Davos. Perhaps that would have been a good reason to go? German Chancellor Helmut Kohl did not consider it beneath his dignity to accept his invitation last year.


But if Yeltsin could not or would not go, then Chernomyrdin should have made it his business to go. Especially since Chubais had lost his portfolio only days before the forum was due to start.


Instead Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin left the field wide open, in effect, for Zyuganov, who used the forum to announce himself to the world as a candidate for president of Russia.


Zyuganov looked confident in Davos and reminded guests that 20 million people had voted for his party and that he was a man to reckon with.


These reminders were not needed. Zyuganov was not only reckoned with, he was courted. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov got far less attention.


Clearly, many of the businessmen seeking out Zyuganov were not sympathetic to the cause but resigned to the fact that this may be the man they will have to deal with over the next five years. That neither Yeltsin nor Chernomyrdin turned up only increased the sense among the Western business community of the inevitability of Zyuganov's coming to power in Russia.


Let business leaders abroad think what they want. But a similar mood is taking hold in Russia. How widespread is it? We'll soon find out.





Mikhail Berger is economics editor for Izvestia.