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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 St. Petersburg Summits With One Message

"Three" seems to be the magic number for the economic forum in St. Petersburg this weekend.

Three summits will be held over three days for 10,000 people -- roughly triple the number who attended last year. Agreements worth $3.3 billion are expected to be signed in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and his two favored successors. Even the entertainment program has three distinct flavors: the Scorpions, the Bee Gees and ballet.

First and foremost, though, Putin is hoping to win over the participants -- and he is going to give top foreign investors a chance to quiz him on Russia's course.

One hundred foreign CEOs have been invited to participate in a closed-door meeting with Putin that is being organized by the World Economic Forum during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which starts Friday.

"We would like a frank discussion," Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Kirill Androsov said in an interview. "They will be able to ask any question and receive any answer."

Klaus Schwab, the Geneva-based forum's founder and executive chairman, will moderate the 1 1/2-hour question-and-answer session with Putin, who is to fly to St. Petersburg straight from the Group of Eight summit in Germany. Putin will deliver a brief speech as well.

The business leaders also will meet with First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref to hear about Russia's domestic priorities and the diversification of the economy.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko are expected to speak about "renationalization trends in the energy sector" and Russia's relations with the European Union and the United States, according to an agenda provided by organizers. Medvedev and Ivanov, who has yet to confirm his participation, are seen as the leading possible successors to replace Putin next year.

"I would call it a summit within the summit," Felix Howald, director for Europe at the World Economic Forum, said by telephone from Geneva.

Among the 100 CEOs on the guest list to meet Putin are Royal Dutch Shell's Jeroen van der Veer, BP's Tony Hayward, Chevron's David O'Reilly, Coca-Cola's Muhtar Kent, PepsiCo's Michael White, Siemens' Klaus Kleinfeld and Magna's Frank Stronach.

The conference is modeled after a similar event organized by the World Economic Forum at German Chancellor Angela Merkel's request after her election last year.

"Everybody is excited about the opportunities in Russia," said Michael de Csillery, partner at Bain, a U.S. consulting group that is just establishing a presence in Russia. He intends to attend sessions with Medvedev and Ivanov, while Bain chairman Orit Gadiesh will meet with Putin.

De Csillery said he was keen to hear how the government would "continue to support the growth." Russia expects to post strong economic growth of more than 6 percent this year.

With the government throwing out all stops to make the 11th annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum a success, their efforts appear to be paying off. Some 200 heads of top international companies have confirmed their participation, and a dozen agreements worth $3.3 billion will be signed, Androsov told reporters Tuesday. Last year about $1 billion in deals were signed.

Androsov declined to give details about this year's deals, saying only that they would involve the construction of new plants in the timber-processing, automotive, food, petrochemicals and electronics industries.

Japanese carmaker Suzuki is expected to sign a deal on a Russian plant.

An informal CIS summit will coincide with the economic gathering, and a total of 10 heads of state from CIS countries are scheduled to show up, together with 11 prime ministers and 68 ministers.

In all, at least 6,000 guests will attend the forum, bringing the total number of participants to 10,000, Androsov said. A total of 168 executives are coming from China alone. "Russia has never before been honored to host a Chinese delegation of such magnitude," Androsov said.

Speakers are to include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, John Hopkins University professor Francis Fukuyama and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

Olympic swimming champion Maria Kiselyova and Yulia Bordovskikh, an NTV television presenter, are to participate in a session titled "Russia -- Building Trust." The government will also use the forum to again trumpet its bid to hold the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

State and private companies are forking out a lot of money to help pay for the 500 million ruble ($19.36 million) forum. Sponsorship fees average 5 million to 15 million rubles, said Anton Troyanov, director of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum Fund, a major organizer. Gazprom is the forum's main sponsor.

"We are doing it for ourselves," said Sergei Grigoryev, a vice president at Transneft, speaking of the state pipeline monopoly's decision to sponsor the event.

Transneft was among the companies whose officials were scheduled to attend the Russian Economic Forum in London in April but pulled out at the last minute amid a Kremlin boycott. Some companies have said the Kremlin asked them to give preference to the St. Petersburg forum.

Grigoryev praised the St. Petersburg forum, saying it would give Russian companies an opportunity to showcase themselves and clinch deals.

A new conference hall has been built at the Lenexpo complex for the forum. Equipment, including lights and a screen, were rented from Finland, said Alexei Berlov, spokesman for the forum.

The Scorpions and the Bee Gees will kick off the forum's entertainment program with concerts on Friday night. Ballet and other performances are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.