(amends word in 6th paragraph to read "effectively")
By Dmitry Zhdannikov
ST PETERSBURG, Russia May 22 Global business
leaders are thin on the ground at Russia's main investment
conference in the face of government pressure to stay away
because of the Ukraine crisis, but the Kremlin has advised
Russian media not to make a big deal of it.
In a confidential email seen by Reuters, the Kremlin advised
loyal and state-run organisations to focus instead on the
growing participation of Asian investors and the quality of
discussions at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
"The quality and number of companies participating has not
decreased," the Kremlin message said, after big names were
conspicuous in their absence following the imposition of U.S.
and European Union sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine.
"The quality of discussions this year will probably be even
higher because some companies will be represented not by their
chiefs, who often play just ceremonial roles, but by top
executives, who do all the practical work and take real
decisions," the message said.
The remark may not go down well with chief executives who
showed up on Thursday, the first day of the forum, despite
suggestions by Washington that it is "inappropriate" to attend
following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
"We are grateful to the U.S. authorities for the active
promotion of the forum," the Kremlin wrote. "Those investors who
for some reasons decided not to participate in the forum are
effectively punishing themselves ... Nature abhors a vacuum".
It said that 29 executives had declined to participate in
the forum. Twenty had cited external pressure and 13 of them
were from the United States.
Firms that have not sent their chief executives include
Exxon Mobil, Citi, PepsiCo and Goldman
Sachs, although other senior representatives of those
companies were attending.
President Vladimir Putin will attend the forum on Friday,
two days after signing a deal with China to supply Moscow's
Asian neighbour with natural gas, a shift in Russian energy
flows away from Western markets.
"The Western world is no longer an absolute leader that can
dictate its rules to everyone else. The epicentre of the global
economic activity is increasingly shifting towards
Asia-Pacific," the Kremlin email said.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mark Heinrich)