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Honestly: WEF sends strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says Forum’s Borge Brende

DAVOS, Switzerland: The president of the World Economic Forum says the Geneva-based organization is sending a strong signal to Moscow by not inviting Russian officials and companies to this year’s Davos summit while calling on the Ukrainian leader to address the congregation.

“As far as Russia is concerned, we have chosen not to invite Russian companies or Russian officials because there are limits,” Borge Brende told Katie Jensen, host of Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show which features interviews with key policy makers and business leaders.

“Russia violated fundamental humanitarian law and international law. They do not respect the Charter of the United Nations and we have seen so many atrocities.

Borge Brende with Katie Jensen on Frankly Speaking. (A photo)

At the same time, Brende said, the WEF will not only have Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky “on video,” but several of his ministers as well.

“From Kyiv we will have two of its deputy prime ministers. We also have the foreign minister in Davos,” he said, adding that some business leaders will come together to form a group of CEOs for Ukraine to “guarantee the reconstruction of the country.”

Defending the WEF’s decision, he said: “The key to unlocking this is with (President Vladimir) Putin and the Kremlin. We need to see that they take steps to respect international law again before being invited back to Davos. We have a strong moral obligation to also send this kind of signal in such a situation.

Brende appeared on “Frankly Speaking” on the eve of the WEF’s first in-person annual meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the first time the event, which kicked off on Sunday, has been held in Davos in May.

He denied that for an organization that prides itself on its impartiality and reputation as a bridge builder, the decision not to invite a party amounts to a failure on the part of the WEF to encourage debate.

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Brende said it’s true that over the past 50 years the WEF has always tried to bring leaders together, but “there are limits”.

“This is an ongoing war in Ukraine, where we see children being killed every day in their schools. You see women being raped. We see war crimes happening and there is no will for dialogue,” he said.

“Davos is about the will to find common solutions, and if the countries at least are ready to sit down and discuss the future, then that’s something else. But today we don’t see any kind of this will on the part of Russia. That is why we are very sad that we cannot have this dialogue. Hopefully in the future, but not today.

Brende, a former foreign minister of Norway, dismissed comparisons between accusations of atrocities Israel is accused of committing against Palestinian civilians and those leveled against Russia in Ukraine. He also denied that this is because Ukraine is seen as closer to home for many Europeans.

Borge Brende, president of the WEF. (A photo)

“It is unacceptable what is happening in Ukraine now and the war continues,” he repeated, explaining why inviting Russia to the annual meeting is not the same as, say, inviting Israel or the Iran.

“When it comes to Israel and the situation in the Palestinian areas, there is at least a desire for dialogue. We saw it through the Abraham Accords, but we also see in Davos that we are bringing together Israeli and Palestinian business leaders in an initiative called Breaking the Deadlock. And they’re sitting there with global politicians, but also politicians from those regions to discuss whether there’s a way forward to establish a two-state solution. At least there is an ongoing dialogue and we hope for future solutions.

Asked if he thought the sanctions recently imposed on Russia were enough to end the conflict or if an enlarged NATO was the solution, Brende said: “I think Russia is incredibly surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian army. They were supposed to take kyiv, the capital, in two, three days. Kharkiv, the second largest city, in two, three days. They saw the resistance among the Ukrainians which I am sure surprised them and that is why they are also withdrawing.

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In the coming months, Brende said, Russia is likely to continue its attacks. “But Ukraine can easily become Russia’s Vietnam or Russia’s Afghanistan,” he said.

“As more than 40 million people fight back as vigorously as the Ukrainians seeking freedom, the Russians will have a huge challenge ahead. This shows that even a very modern and very powerful army cannot kill the peoples who are fighting for freedom all over the world. I think this is a lesson that many countries need to take with them and reflect on. »

The WEF says its annual meeting in Davos provides “a unique collaborative environment” for public figures and world leaders to “reconnect, share ideas, gain new perspectives, and build problem-solving communities and initiatives.” However, critics say the event has become more of a spectacle featuring politicians sticking to pre-prepared scripts.

Brende countered that this year’s summit would see progress on many of the most important topics. “We will, for example, have new coalitions to fight climate change,” he said.

“We are going to focus a lot on trade and investment. We know there won’t be a real economic recovery without a trade recovery, which is why it’s so important that we also have trade ministers, 30 of them with (the head of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala trade), saying no new tariffs, more protectionism and more food export bans.

“Many of the challenges we face cannot be sold without business. So with the 1,400 CEOs and presidents in Davos, I’m pretty sure we’re going to make progress,” Brende said, adding that “25% of attendees are women – it should have been 50, but we’re making progress. .

Brende disputed the claim that the WEF summit in Davos has a perception problem, made more recently by the Financial Times newspaper, which said this week that the organization was not projecting the right image.

“I think we are definitely capable of bringing together leaders from all walks of life. It’s easy to be critical, but I think the past has also shown that the World Economic Forum has a positive impact,” he said.

“It was in Davos, for example, that the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) was launched (in 2001). It was here that (anti-apartheid icon) Nelson Mandela first came to Europe and launched the economic plan for South Africa.

“This time around it’s really about ensuring that the weak recovery doesn’t end in another recession. It’s about making sure we give the floor at COP26 in Glasgow. company, 120 of them, will commit to achieving net zero by 2050. So it’s really where business and government leaders come together to make a difference.

Watch the full episode of Frankly Speaking below:

As 2,500 members of the global elite descend on Davos, Brende said this year’s meeting couldn’t be more timely because “global challenges need global solutions”.

“Unfortunately, because of the polarized world, we don’t see as much collaboration to really solve wars, climate change and also a weakening recovery,” he said. “But we will try in Davos to bring the leaders together and at least mobilize the private sector to provide support in these very critical areas.”

Brende also acknowledged the reality of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, saying it’s “very important to be prepared for the next one because unfortunately we will see new diseases and pandemics in the coming decades as well.”

“We got very close to nature. In the last 10 years alone we have lost wilderness across the world the size of the country of Mexico, so animals and humans are much closer. And then we will also see more diseases like this.

“And we must not forget that we are not out of the woods yet. China, the world’s second largest economy, is currently partially locked in some of the country’s biggest and biggest cities, and this will also impact the global economy as China’s growth slows and demand Chinese to of course get off.

Looking to the future, Brende said: “We have to learn from this pandemic, that we have to have medicine, we have to have medical equipment much closer than before. We can’t wait weeks for this to happen. We need to be able to scale up vaccination quickly. We know we have paid a huge price: 15 million people have lost their lives so far in this pandemic.