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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Makes Davos a Priority This Year

APThe World Economic Forum got under way Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland.
DAVOS, Switzerland -- In a sharp reversal from the past few years, a high-powered Kremlin delegation led by First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is at Davos this week to make the case for investing -- and trusting -- in Russia.

The lone minister representing the government last year at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting of political and business leaders high in the Swiss Alps was Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. But he skipped out on the Russia dinner that is a Friday evening tradition at the annual event.

The big difference this year, government officials and investors say, is that Russia desperately needs to repair a reputation battered by a series of embarrassing disputes and missteps, including the shutoff of gas and oil supplies this January and last amid pricing spats with its neighbors. Equally distressing to some Davos participants is the state's resurgence in the energy sector at the expense of foreign investors.

The task of making the case that Russia is a dependable and reliable partner will fall on Medvedev, Gref, IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko and Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov. They have a full schedule of sessions, private meetings and news conferences planned for the forum, which opened Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Along to help them make their case are Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev, making the state gas giant's Davos debut, and Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov.

Dmitry Medvedev, Gref and Matviyenko will present the government's view of Russia's place in the world at what is expected to be a packed plenary session Saturday. Immediately afterward, Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenko and Vneshtorgbank chairman Andrei Kostin will offer investors' side of the story together with Coca-Cola chairman E. Neville Isdell and Ernst & Young chairman James Turley at a second plenary session.

Dmitry Medvedev will be the host at a three-hour reception Thursday evening and speak to media leaders during a 45-minute coffee break Friday. He, Gref, Reiman and Matviyenko have all scheduled news conferences. Between the official events, they will focus on private meetings.

"We have scheduled a number of meetings with existing investors and potential investors. We want to hear their views on the current situation, and to be open and transparent and to establish contact," Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Kirill Androsov said in a telephone interview.

Androsov said the officials would use Davos sessions to tout Russia's economic stability and potential, but that their comments would be kept brief to allow attendees to ask questions.

The government has finally realized that it needs to go on a public relations drive to improve its image, and that is why it has significantly beefed up its presence at Davos, said Pavel Teplukhin, president of Troika Dialog Asset Management.

Russia has taken a lot of heat in the past year over its energy disputes with Belarus and Ukraine, which affected European supplies.

Investors are edgy after seeing Shell and its partners in the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project pressured through environmental inspections into selling half of their stakes to Gazprom. Fears are now growing that the state may use similar tactics to gain control of projects run by foreign oil majors TNK-BP, Total and ExxonMobil.

There will be plenty of Russians at Davos to explain what is going on. The country is represented by 47 participants, compared to just 27 last year, said Matthais Lufkens, a senior media manager with the forum. In all, about 2,400 people are attending from 87 countries.

The Russian participants, however, are unlikely to offer any criticism of the government, unlike in leaner years when more independent-minded people, such as former Kremlin economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, were in attendance.

The seemingly ever-optimistic William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, the largest Russia portfolio investor, said he was telling investors that they could not go wrong with Russia.

"I'm telling people that the Russia story still has strong legs left in it due to the liquidity being generated by high commodity prices," said Browder, who will speak at a luncheon titled "Investment Fund Activism" on Friday.

Browder, who has been barred from Russia since late 2005 over what he has linked to his attempts to get companies to adopt good corporate governance, said he would speak about "the upsides and downsides of being a shareholder activist in Russia."

"There is a lot of upside if it works, and it's very personal and costly when it doesn't," he said.

Davos organizers are delighted with the high turnout this year. "We're very pleased to have [Dmitry] Medvedev here because he might be one of the leading politicians in Russia in the coming years," Lufkens said.

The meeting will effectively serve as an international coming-out party for Dmitry Medvedev, who is widely regarded as a leading candidate to succeed President Vladimir Putin in elections next year. It will be his first high-profile get-together with the world elite, and some Russian participants speculated that the Kremlin might be putting him into the international spotlight as it tries to figure out whether he is presidential material.

But another leading candidate for Putin's blessing as successor, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, is also very much in the international spotlight this week, overseeing the signing of billion-dollar nuclear and energy deals with India. Putin himself will visit India on Thursday.

Matviyenko's presence at the forum is also fueling buzz that the Kremlin might be considering her as a presidential candidate. It will be her second international event this month alone. The other was a gathering in Paris of first ladies and queens to draw attention to child exploitation and abuse. She was the only governor.

Forum organizers said there was no link between Matviyenko's attendance -- and the larger Russian presence in general -- to a recent agreement to hold a World Economic Forum meeting of CEOs in St. Petersburg this year. The invitation-only event, which is scheduled for June 8 to 10, will be held alongside the annual St. Petersburg Economic Forum and will bring together 100 foreign CEOs and their Russian counterparts. The World Economic Forum is organizing the meeting at the request of the Russian government, and it is to be patterned after a meeting of 100 CEOs organized by the forum in Germany last November.

As snow steadily fell on Davos throughout the day Wednesday, much of the talk was on business. But at least one Russian participant seemed to be taking the forum's motto -- "committed to improving the state of the world" -- to heart.

"Davos brings this feeling that at the end of the day we are all in the same boat and have to help each other to make a better world," said Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia. Lazar said he was hoping to serve as a bridge between the Russians and their Western counterparts in gaining a better understanding of how poverty and other social ills nurture terrorism.