U.S.-Russia relationship may be top question at Davos

CBS News, 18.01.2017

Can Russia and the U.S. become true partners?

The question was a hot topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the heads of Russian firms mingled with the U.S. and global financial elite. Some expressed hopes that the incoming president, Donald Trump, would usher in a new era of U.S.-Russia cooperation. Others were much more skeptical.

Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder pointed out that Russia hasn’t responded to the latest round of U.S. sanctions and the Obama administration’s expulsion of Russian diplomats in late December.

The uncharacteristic reticence means Russian President Vladimir Putin has high expectations from the incoming administration, Browder argued.

“They’re waiting for some type of gift from the president-elect,” he told CBS News. “If they don’t get that gift, surely they will retaliate, because that is in their nature to do.”

Browder is a noted critic of Putin. The investment firm he leads, Hermitage Capital Management, has been targeted by the Russian state. A lawyer working on its behalf, Sergei Magnitsky, was imprisoned and died in suspicious circumstances.

Other businessmen aren’t waiting, however. Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, is already in discussions with U.S. business leaders, and will open a New York office this spring, he told CBS News.

The RFID is a sovereign wealth fund the Russian government established in 2011. Currently with $10 billion under management, it has been the target of U.S. sanctions since 2015, after Russia’s intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Dmitriev, however, noted the sanctions’ positive effect. “Lots of our companies, because of sanctions, really became leaner and had a major effectiveness drive,” he said. That makes them poised to drive economic growth in the coming years, he said. 

Andrey Kostin, the head of VTB bank -- also on the sanctions list -- noted cautious optimism. “We are encouraged by the latest statements from Trump,” he said. He also expressed hope that the Russian economy would grow faster in the coming years, after contracting in 2016.