Putin Disappoints Investors With Quick Exit From Moscow Forum

How Putin Became the Symbol of Russian Power

President Vladimir Putin left some guests at Moscow’s main investment forum surprised and disappointed after he broke with his tradition of taking questions from the audience and left after a brief speech.

After comments that lasted about 12 minutes at a panel at the VTB Capital Forum on Tuesday, Putin left the stage, leaving behind the sanctioned lender’s Chief Executive Officer Andrey Kostin and VTB’s First Deputy CEO Yuri Soloviev. Hundreds of investors in the hall also headed for the exit even as the panel discussion continued. Last year, Putin spent several hours answering investors’ questions following a panel discussion.

Putin’s annual appearance has been the highlight of VTB Capital’s investment forum every year since its inception in 2009. The gathering Tuesday included speakers as finance ministers from Russia and Qatar, as well as Russia’s economy minister and the president of CEFC China.

“This is the first forum I can remember where Putin hasn’t done a Q&A,” said Tom Adshead, the chief operating officer of the Moscow-based consultancy Macro Advisory. “People were expecting him to take questions, so obviously it was a disappointment.”

Putin had spoken at the Valdai forum in Sochi last week and at the Moscow Energy Forum earlier this month and didn’t want to take the audience’s questions Tuesday, Kostin told reporters. “It’s up to the president to choose the format,” he said.

In 2014, soon after European and U.S. sanctions hit some of Russia’s biggest companies, including VTB Group, its investment banking unit treated several hundred U.S., European and Russian financiers to a six-hour party at the Moscow Crowne Plaza hotel that included turns from British pop diva Sophie Ellis-Bextor, dancers and a charade making light of sanctions, according to three people who attended.

The situation this year is very different, with Russian local debt being one of this year’s best performers, inflation falling to a record low and the economy recovering from the longest recession in two decades. During his short speech, Putin highlighted that the Russian economy is on track for growth.

“People were quite surprised that Putin had left so quickly,” said Elena Loven, a Stockholm-based fund manager at Swedbank Robur. “I have a pragmatic response to this: the higher the oil price and the more stable the economy, the less time Putin has to spend on promoting Russia.”

— With assistance by Andrey Biryukov, and Anna Baraulina

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