Russia dominates Davos – even without Russians

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In the “Russia House” in Davos, Russia once presented itself as a worthwhile investment destination. Now the house is used by Ukrainians to commemorate Russian war crimes.

Russian voices echo through the former Russia House in Davos, much as they used to – only this time they are not aimed at potential investors. Rather, it is the voices of Russian soldiers who proudly tell their relatives back home about crimes they committed in Ukraine.

Since 2018, the house has been the Russian residence in the Swiss alpine town. Now it is used by a Ukrainian organization, which has renamed it the House of Russian War Crimes.

The renaming is “an example of what Russia has done to itself by becoming a state of war criminals has become,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday in his virtual address to participants at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

Formerly run by the Roscongress Foundation, the Russia House has been an important element in the country's self-portrayal to global investors. In January 2020, at the last regular WEF before the pandemic, more than 2000 guests from 85 countries visited the house, including US billionaire Ray Dalio and Sheikh Ali Alwaleed Al Thani, a member of the Qatari ruling family.

This year, Ukrainians were able to take over the building after the WEF decided not to invite Russian representatives and business leaders to Davos as a reaction to the war.

The house, which is clearly visible on the Davos Promenade, is now showing an exhibition for which thousands of gruesome photos of Ukrainian war victims were edited into a film while the voices of Russian perpetrators can be heard in the background.

“This used to be where Russia presented itself to the world. It's incredibly important for us that we talk about the reality of Russia here,” says Bjorn Geldhof, one of the curators of the exhibition.

” We show not only the cruelty, but also the enormous scale – how many crimes were committed against Ukrainians. All the bodies that you see here are citizens who were shot by Russian soldiers,” says the artistic director of the PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv to DW.

Bjorn Geldhof, curator of the Davos exhibition on Russian war crimes

Support for Ukraine

Russia's isolation contrasts with the red carpet rolled out for Ukraine. Never before has the country sent such a large delegation to Davos.

Numerous events and meetings are dedicated to the war-ravaged country, and Ukrainian representatives are hoping for further support from governments and companies.

“Telling the story of this tragedy as loudly and broadly as possible will save some lives. We hope it will prompt politicians around the world to move weapons faster [to Ukraine] and even tougher sanctions [against Russia ],” said Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, whose eponymous foundation is behind the House of Russian War Crimes, at the exhibition's opening ceremony on Monday.

The WEF's decision to exclude Russia this year was welcomed by many participants of the summit in Davos.

“I don't think you can have a meaningful dialogue with Russia at this point. We tried,” Ukrainian parliamentarian Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze told DW. “We must learn our lessons from this. Russia must be defeated and weakened to the point where it is no longer capable of waging another war against anyone.”

The end of the Russian Davos Party< /h2>

It is the first time since the fall of communism that there is no Russian presence at the annual gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos. The WEF was also used to the wild parties with which Russian oligarchs wooed foreign investors.

They flew in Olympic figure skating stars for a show or Enrique Iglesias for a private concert – and did other things as well anything to rock it and impress the assembled elite.

But Davos also has a special meaning for Russians beyond parties and investor meetings.

In 1996, a group of Russian oligarchs in the Swiss Alps concluded the Davos Pact in order to prevent the defeat of President Boris Yeltsin, which was believed to be certain when he stood for re-election. More than a decade later, Dmitry Medvedev, then First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, traveled to the WEF – an appearance interpreted as introducing President Vladimir Putin's successor.

Putin, who has had personal ties with WEF founder Klaus Schwab for decades, has spoken at the forum twice, including via video link last year.

Russia's rendezvous with Davos was self-defeating in Western sanctions following the annexation of Crimea survived in 2014. But things changed dramatically after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Within days, Schwab condemned the Russian aggression and atrocities. The WEF suspended all ties with Russian entrepreneurs and entities, including lucrative partnerships.

“We would have liked to build bridges by facilitating dialogue. But the situation is such that a nation, or rather a person doesn't want to get involved in such a dialogue,” WEF spokesman Yann Zopf told DW. “But should the situation change, the WEF will be ready to mediate and try to build those bridges.”

Report adapted from English.