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MosNews: Russian Economic Forum Opens in London Under Boycott from Top Moscow Officials

Created: 23.04.2007 13:04 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 13:07 MSK,

The 10th annual Russian Economic Forum opened in London on Sunday, April 22, under a cloud of boycott by top Moscow officials. The blow fell after a Russian press report suggested that the Kremlin ordered the no-show because of increasing strains between Moscow and London.

Missing from the forum will be Alexander Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom and the president of the state-controlled oil company Rosneft, Sergei Bogdanchikov.

“There won’t be any high officials this year at the forum,” Jonti Small, spokesman for event organisers Eventica, said on Friday, April 20.

According to three sources close to the Kremlin quoted on Friday by the Russian newspaper Kommersant, the sudden decision to boycott the event was “an order from above.”

One of the sources said that the move came after a dispute with the British Foreign Office over extradiction of Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky. Ties between London and Moscow have also been strained since the assassination by radioactive poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in November.

His associates accused Moscow of poisoning Litvinenko because of his opposition to Putin, a claim rejected by the Kremlin.

Before the forum opened, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) called on Russia and the European Union, of which Britain is a leading member, to iron out their political and economic differences.

“It is necessary (for them) to engage, to discuss, to treat political issues, but increasingly there are matters that can be tackled concerning business matters,” EBRD chief Jean Lemierre said, quoted by the AFP. “Relations between Russia and the European Union have never been as intense as they are currently, since the end of the Cold War,” he added.

The EBRD, which since 1991 has helped former Soviet bloc countries make the transition to market economies, last year doubled investment in Russia to 1.9 billion euros ($2.6 billion). Frenchman Lemierre is scheduled as one of the official speakers at the forum, which started yesterday with an informal gathering of delegates, and continues with speeches and presentations today and tomorrow.

The EBRD turned down in January a request from Gazprom for a $400million loan.

The loan was for the Sakhalin-2 liquefied gas project in Russia’s Far East, but after Gazprom became a majority shareholder in the undertaking, the EBRD said Sakhalin no longer fitted the category of projects usually financed by the bank.

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