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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sergei Ivanov Basks in the Limelight at Forum

ST. PETERSBURG -- Of the possible candidates most likely to succeed President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Ivanov was allowed to outshine the rest at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

In terms of panel seats, public compliments, air time and access to global business leaders at the weekend forum, Ivanov, first deputy prime minister in charge of industrial projects, dominated his closest rival, Dmitry Medvedev, first deputy prime minister in charge of the four national projects.

Ivanov gave the first speech at the first plenary session Saturday, while Medvedev had to wait until Sunday's second session, where he participated in a "general discussion" without giving a full-length address.

He finally gave a speech Sunday at one of the roundtable discussions, which overlapped with three others and was not widely attended. There he was introduced as the chairman of Gazprom, not as a politician, and shared the stage with businessmen and academics to discuss "New Players in Old Markets."

Vladimir Yakunin, head of Russian Railways and another possible presidential hopeful, gave a speech at one of the roundtable talks going on at the same time.

A fourth possible contender, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, chaired two events -- a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Sunday with Wu Yi, vice premier of China's State Council, and a roundtable session Saturday during which Samsung and Volvo signed deals to build factories.

The most glaring advantage Ivanov enjoyed over Medvedev this weekend was a private meeting Sunday with about 150 members of the global business elite -- a meeting with almost the same format and participants as one hosted by Putin a day earlier.

"For the most part, we equally encourage the progress of both foreign and Russian investors, and we focus on having equal partnerships with both," Ivanov said in answer to the first question from a participant. "Aside from certain political difficulties, maybe even certain conflicts ... I am very happy to say that business -- meaning large foreign business -- is nonetheless coming to the Russian market."

This was all that could be overheard from the discussion -- whose topic was introduced as "Russia: top player in the geopolitical power game" -- because journalists were only allowed to stay for Ivanov's short and rather perfunctory speech, and were shuffled out as he began taking questions. Putin's meeting with the business leaders was conducted the same way.

During his session, Ivanov followed Putin's line almost point for point, said Michael de Csillery, head of projects for the former Soviet Union at consultancy Bain & Co., who attended both meetings.

"He was in total command and very clear in his vision," de Csillery said.

German Gref, the economic development and trade minister, sat beside Ivanov at the head table. Gref uttered hardly a word, de Csillery said.

Gref separately told reporters that Ivanov had spent a week preparing his opening speech for the forum. In the speech, Ivanov assured investors that in 2020, Russia would be "a democratic state based on the rule of law and respecting the rights and dignity of mankind."

He also said it should be a top five world economy with a competitive edge in aviation, shipbuilding, nanotechnology, space launches and the nuclear sector.

Medvedev has an edge over Ivanov in popularity polls, scoring 34 percent to Ivanov's 31 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Levada Center in May.

In what could be interpreted as a sign that the Kremlin was testing the two ministers' mettle with foreign investors, Medvedev got a chance to shine at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos in January, winning praise from business leaders after holding a series of meetings with them. Ivanov at the time accompanied Putin on a visit to India.

At around midnight Sunday, Ivanov presided over a closing ceremony for the forum, unveiling New Holland Island to the public. As defense minister, Ivanov decommissioned the island in 2004, handing it over to the city administration to be turned into a "multicultural and business center." It had served for 285 years as a military complex closed to civilians.

St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko lavished praise on Ivanov while introducing him to the crowd of about 5,000 invited guests. "None of this would be possible if we had not had such a wonderful defense minister," she said, going on to compare Ivanov with Peter the Great.