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Ukraine centre stage as Davos returns

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Troops and police have been deployed to Davos in force to protect the global elite's annual World Economic Forum./AFP
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Jan 17, 2023 - 06:05 AM

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — The war in Ukraine is set to take the spotlight Tuesday as global business and political A-listers huddle in the Swiss Alpine village of Davos with the ambitious aim of uniting a “fragmented” world.

Military planes, troops and police have been deployed to guard the exclusive mountain resort as government leaders, CEOs, activists and celebrities gathered for the annual gabfest of the World Economic Forum.

The WEF has returned to its traditional wintry date after three years of Covid disruptions that forced the Swiss foundation to hold virtual meetings and delay its in-person meeting last year until May.

The week-long forum is taking place under the theme of “cooperation in a fragmented world” as the planet faces a perfect storm of crises — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation, the spectre of recession and climate catastrophes.

“We couldn’t meet at a more challenging time. We are confronted with so many crises simultaneously,” said the WEF’s founder, German economist Klaus Schwab.

“Only if we are involved with all our passion to construct and to shape the future, I am convinced we will overcome the present multicrises,” he said at an event Monday night where British actor Idris Elba, his wife Sabrina and other artists were given awards for their humanitarian work.

The Ukraine conflict, which has forced Russians out of the Davos meetings, is again dominating the conversation and likely to be at the heart of Tuesday’s special address by European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Other European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will address the forum on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to make the first of three scheduled video appearances on Tuesday morning at a Ukraine-themed event on the sidelines of the forum.

Ukrainian ministers, military leaders, mayors and soldiers form one of the largest national delegations as Kyiv lobbies for more weapons and financial support from the West.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight champion boxer, told reporters Monday that the war was a tragedy because Russian President Vladimir Putin “has the sick idea to rebuild the Soviet empire”.

“We lived in the empire and we don’t want to go back to USSR. We see our future as part of the European family,” Klitschko said.

China comeback 

China is also sending a high-profile delegation as it makes a comeback after lifting travel curbs last week following three years of severe Covid restrictions, which limited the country’s attendance at last year’s WEF.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who led negotiations in a trade war with the United States, will give a special address on Tuesday and meet US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Zurich the next day.

President Xi Jinping made a splash in Davos in 2017 when he presented himself as a champion of globalisation.

Climate change has also been announced as a top topic, with US climate envoy John Kerry among the speakers.

Organisers are keen for discussion to help prepare the next round of global climate talks, COP28, that will take place in the oil-producing United Arab Emirates from November 30.

But Greenpeace called the Davos gathering a “distasteful masterclass in hypocrisy” on Friday, as it published research showing the use of private jets by attendees of last year’s gathering.

Global charity Oxfam also seized on the meeting to call Monday for “billionaire-busting” policies, including higher taxes on the super-rich in order to cut their numbers in half by 2030 and lower inequality.

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