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Davos 2022: At the World Economic Forum, there is no ‘business as usual’ in the shadow of war
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DAVOS, Switzerland — Before the pandemic interrupted the luxurious gatherings of the world’s political and business elites in this Swiss mountain town, Russia took center stage — literally. Anyone strolling along Davos’ main promenade would encounter a wooden building that, if you squint, looked like a traditional dacha. “Russia House,” as it was known, was part of the Kremlin’s soft power play at the World Economic Forum and served as a venue for boozy cocktails and cheery panels on investment opportunities and tourism in Russia.

This week, as the Forum convenes after a hiatus of more than two years, Russian business and political authorities are explicitly not invited – a consequence of both Western sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and of the position of principle adopted by the Forum. . No Russian oligarch will board his private plane. No Russian delegation will rub shoulders with their government counterparts in the forum’s fresh juice and espresso bars.

Meanwhile, the House of Russia was seized by the foundation of Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk and turned into the “House of War Crimes in Russia”. will feature photographs taken in Ukraine during the conflict that document evidence of rapes, executions and other atrocities, as well as a series of discussions on human rights abuses in Russia.

It is a symbolic transformation that sets the stage for this week’s debates. For the first time in the Forum’s half-century history, the gathering will take place in the shadow of war between nations in Europe. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will deliver the first speech by a head of state on Monday and participate in a number of other events virtually from the capital of his war-torn country. A large Ukrainian delegation will be physically present in Davos, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, two deputy prime ministers, five parliamentarians and the mayor of kyiv.

Other headliners include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, both of whom are expected to speak at length on the Ukraine crisis. Scholz’s earlier statement that the war marked a “turning point in history”, or Zeitenwende in German, is amplified in Davos, with the guiding theme of this year’s gathering clearly focused on how governments and business can wrestle with “history at a turning point.”

The mood reflects a broader belief in the West — certainly in the United States — that we are entering a new era in global politics. February 24, the date Russia launched its invasion, Susan Glasser said in her column for the New Yorker, “represents one of those pivotal moments that happens every ten or two years – a transformative event not only for Ukraine and Europe but for Washington, too. American power and purpose will be redefined by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s decision for the coming years. There will be a before February 24 and an after.

But there is no shortage of other crises either, many of which are intertwined. Countries are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. While vaccinations have yet to be sent to parts of the world, the turbulent economic headwinds spurred by the pandemic have clouded global financial markets and raised fears of a recession in the United States, as my colleague Abha Bhattarai has reported.

The war in Ukraine has only aggravated growing food crises across the developing world, with soaring prices for a list of basic commodities leading to fuel and grain shortages in countries as disparate as Tunisia. and Sri Lanka.

“The return of war, epidemics and the climate crisis, all these disruptive forces have derailed the global recovery,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the Forum, during a press briefing with journalists the last week. “These issues need to be tackled in Davos; the global food crisis, in particular, requires our immediate attention.

As usual, the Forum will try to focus on proactive and positive solutions to these challenges.. It sees itself as an indispensable vehicle for collaboration between policy makers and the private sector. The annual gathering – which, due to the pandemic, takes place exceptionally in the spring – is regularly pilloried by its critics as an elitist discussion forum on the mountain, avant-ski. This caricature often obscures the rather genuine commitments and efforts of Forum participants and organizers, including projects to help “upskill” hundreds of millions of workers in the global economy and a major initiative launched in partnership with the US climate envoy John F. Kerry who aims to decarbonize the supply chains of some of the world’s biggest companies.

Last year, the Forum framed its programming around pandemic recovery as “the great reset”, suggesting that the global coronavirus experience offered a narrow window for governments and businesses to “reimagine and reset our world”. , as Schwab said. .

The initiative “was an attempt to put policymakers in a positive frame of mind,” Adrian Monck, the Forum’s chief executive, told me. But it has also provoked a backlash within the far right in the West, which has linked the idea of ​​the ‘great reset’ to an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that global elites are planning the pandemic to impose new systems of population control.

This week, those gathering in Davos may face how little power they have to deal with the many looming global crises, from the specter of climate change to the intractable Russian-Ukrainian conflict. “There is no business as usual,” WEF chairman Borge Brende told reporters last week. “We just need to come together now and…move into uncharted territory.”

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