Kremlin May Send Delegates to Davos After Shift on Sanctions

(Bloomberg) -- The Kremlin cheered what it said was a relaxation of a ban on sanctioned Russian businessmen by organizers of the World Economic Forum, signalling the move would ease the path for a delegation to attend the January event.

“We welcome the fact that the Davos economic forum and its management heard our position that it’s unacceptable to have a selective relationship with our businessmen,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday on a conference call. “We can easily compensate for contacts with American businessmen with businessmen from other countries.”

Sanctioned businessmen Viktor Vekselberg, Oleg Deripaska and VTB Group Chief Executive Officer Andrey Kostin plan to attend the forum in Switzerland, while the government’s delegation will be chosen by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev Tass reported, citing Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin. Oreshkin said he would be in Davos during the conference for a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, according to Tass.

While there’s no outright ban on people affected by U.S. sanctions in April, the forum’s policy is that “any engagement with those affected would be in compliance and subject to the conditions communicated by our legal advisers,” a WEF spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The three sanctioned tycoons will be allowed to attend the annual forum as long as they avoid events with U.S. citizens and anything American-owned, including email servers and cloud services, The Bell online news site reported Monday, citing two people familiar with the conditions that it didn’t identify.

The restrictions on sanctioned businessmen had thrown Russia’s traditionally large delegation at the gathering of the global elite at the Swiss ski resort into question. Medvedev threatened a Russian boycott after reports of a ban surfaced last month.

Visit Resort

Vekselberg and Deripaska, both of whom were regulars at Davos before they were sanctioned in April, didn’t intend to participate in official meetings at the forum and this hasn’t changed, two people familiar with their plans said. They may visit the resort during the conference, the people said. Kostin, who has attended Davos for more than 20 years, isn’t aware of the conditions, according to a person familiar with the planning.

Spokesmen for the three sanctioned businessmen declined to comment.

The rules prohibiting contact between sanctioned individuals and U.S. citizens are an escalation from this year’s event, when American officials informally avoided their Russian counterparts over the then-looming sanctions. In April, the Trump administration sanctioned dozens of Russian companies, officials and businessmen to punish Moscow for alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including Vekselberg, Deripaska and Kostin. Russia denies the allegations.

Some collateral damage at Davos may be too late to repair. Plans for the Russia House, which last year feted over 1,000 forum guests with chilled vodka and panel sessions, were shelved this month due to restrictions on Russian businessmen, according to its organizer, Roscongress.

Easing Tensions

Still, an easing of tensions opens the door for non-sanctioned Russians to save face if they attend. No decision has been made on who if anyone will represent Russia, according to Peskov.

Billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov told Bloomberg he will attend the forum. Alexey Mordashov, another Russian regular at Davos, hasn’t yet finalized his plans, according to a spokeswoman for his Severstal PJSC.

Spokespeople for other long-standing Davos attendees, including Sberbank PJSC’s Herman Gref, PhosAgro PJSC’s Andrey Guryev, TMK PJSC’s Dmitry Pumpyansky and USM Holding’s Alisher Usmanov, declined to comment. Some unsanctioned companies are still waiting for a signal from the Russian government before confirming their attendance, two people said.

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