Paris, France—The world’s political and business elite will hobnob in Davos next week after a two-year break caused by COVID, with the Ukraine war set to dominate the exclusive Swiss mountain summit.
The world has changed drastically since the last time the World Economic Forum took place in person at the ski resort in January 2020.
At the time, US President Donald Trump and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg headlined the show and the coronavirus had yet to spread widely outside China.
Since then, the outbreak in China turned into a pandemic that rocked the global economy, Trump lost the US election to Joe Biden, countries have endured climate change-driven weather disasters, inflation has surged and Russia invaded Ukraine.
After a virtual forum in 2021 and the postponement of this year’s in-person event due to the Omicron variant, the WEF returns to its Davos den on Monday under the theme “History at a Turning Point.”
But the hub of cheerleaders of capitalism and globalization will lack its usual scenic snowy backdrop—and the usual Russian contingent.
President Vladimir Putin spoke at the online meeting last year, but organizers decided to exclude Russians this time as Western powers have imposed sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine conflict.
Instead, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the summit via video link while around a dozen officials from his country will attend in person.
WEF founder Klaus Schwab said it would be “the most timely and consequential” meeting since the creation of the forum more than 50 years ago.
“Russia’s aggression on the country will be seen in future history books as the breakdown of the post-World War II and post-Cold War order,” Schwab said in a pre-summit briefing, adding that Davos will do what it can to support Ukraine and its recovery.
WEF president Borge Brende said that excluding the Russians from the forum was “the right decision.”
“We do hope, though, that Russia will follow a different path… in the years to come to start to stick to the UN charter and to their international obligations,” Brende said.
More than 50 heads of state or government will be among the 2,500 delegates ranging from business leaders to academics and civil society figures attending the four-day gathering.
Some of the biggest names include Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg, and US climate envoy John Kerry.
While war will overshadow the meeting, the forum will also have panels on everything from climate change to rising energy prices, global supply chain problems, gender inequality, poverty, football, and the metaverse.
This year’s meeting, though, lacks some of the star power of the past. Some, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, spoke in a virtual version in January.
“I am sure that this is kind of a disappointment,” said Adrienne Sorbom, co-author of “Discreet Power,” a book on the World Economic Forum.
“I think that the discreet diplomacy that the… forum arranges for is one of the things that is truly to the heart of the forum and what Klaus Schwab sees as his greatest achievement,” said Sorbom, a sociology professor at Stockholm University.