DAVOS, Switzerland, May 22 (Reuters) - Russia would normally
have its own "house" at the World Economic Forum as a showcase
for business leaders and investors.
This year the space on the dressed-up main street in Davos
has been transformed by Ukrainian artists into a "Russian War
Crimes House", portraying images of misery and devastation.
Russia has denied allegations of war crimes in the conflict.
Ukraine is top of the agenda for the four-day meeting of
global business leaders, which kicks off in earnest on Monday
with a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
"This is the world's most influential economic platform,
where Ukraine has something to say," Zelenskiy said in his daily
video address on Sunday night.
As the WEF meeting emerges from a coronavirus pandemic
hiatus of more than two years, a deferral from January to May
means that attendees are surrounded by spring flowers and
verdant slopes rather than navigating icy streets.
But not only the weather is different in 2022, with Russian
politicians, executives and academics entirely absent.
Russian institutions such as its sovereign wealth fund,
state banks and private companies have in previous years thrown
some of the most glitzy parties, serving black caviar, vintage
champagne and foie gras.
They even hired Russia's most prominent musicians and pop
stars to perform for top chief executives.
Aside from the Ukraine crisis, the post-pandemic recovery,
tackling climate change, the future of work, accelerating
stakeholder capitalism and harnessing new technologies are among
the topics scheduled for discussion at Davos.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary-General Jens
Stoltenberg are among the leaders due to address the meeting.
On the business agenda, discussions are likely to focus on
the souring state of financial markets and the global economy.
After a sharp bounceback from the downturn triggered two
years ago by the onset of the pandemic, there are now myriad
threats to that recovery, leading the International Monetary
Fund to downgrade its global growth forecast for the second time
since the year began.
Inflation due to hobbled supply chains emerged as a problem
last year, particularly in the U.S. economy.
That has been compounded since the beginning of 2022 by
events including Russia's invasion of Ukraine and waves of
COVID-19 lockdowns across China that have stalled a recovery.
The Ukrainian artists are hoping to get their message of
fighting for a better future to world leaders in Davos.
Visitors are confronted by images such as a badly burned man
in Kharkiv after Russian shelling and a film made up of
thousands of pictures of dead civilians and bombed houses.
"This is a place where all influencers and all
decision-makers of the world come together," the artistic
director of the PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv, Bjorn Geldhof, told
"What is happening in Ukraine will define tomorrow."
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the invasion of
Ukraine a "special military operation" to disarm the country and
rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists.
Ukraine and its allies have dismissed that as a baseless
pretext for the nearly three-month war, which has killed
thousands of people, displaced millions and shattered cities
While the WEF meeting may not be back to pre-pandemic
levels, with Zurich's airport expecting the number of flights to
be about two-thirds of previous levels, its return comes as a
welcome relief to the ski resort's hotels and restaurants.
"It is another step back to normality," Samuel Rosenast,
spokesperson for the local tourism board, said last week.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Dmitry Zhdannikov, Dan Burns,
Tara Oakes; Additiona reporting by Maria Starkova in Lviv;
Editing by Alexander Smith and Paul Simao)