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Davos opens as Moscow attacks cast a shadow

The World Economic Forum begins Wednesday amid uncertainty after opening speaker Russian President Dmitry Medvedev postponed his visit after a deadly attack on a Moscow airport.

WEF organisers said the Russian president would arrive in time to address the 2,500 members of the global political, business and media elite attending the annual meeting in the snow-bound Alpine village of Davos.

However, it remains to be seen if he will stick to his plan to showcase Russia’s investment opportunities, drawn up before Monday’s bomb blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 35 people.

Posters urging investors to “Increase your opportunities with Russia” have been plastered across key locations in Davos, including in front of the chic Hotel Belvedere Steigenberger, where top politicians and executives stay.

The posters — which also bear the slogan, “Great Country, Great Partner,” — can also be found along the main street running through the Alpine village, as well as against the entrance of cable cars heading up to the ski runs.

IHS analyst Nariman Behravesh said the Russian President will “give a two-fold message. One: ‘We will not tolerate the terrorist attack’, and two: to reassure foreign investors that Russia is still a safe place to invest.”

While accepting that the attack “casts a shadow” over the forum, Behravesh said “the impact on investor sentiment will be limited. Unless there are subsequent attacks, investors will look beyond it.”

“I don’t think that this will make a huge impact on the agenda,” he said.

The global shift in economic and political power towards emerging giants like China and India, as well as the eurozone’s debt battle, will remain key themes at this week’s Davos meeting, said the analyst.

“The world has fundamentally changed,” said Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, which organises the annual meeting at the Alpine resort.

“One of the most important factors of the new reality is the shift of geopolitical and geoeconomic power from north to south, from west to east.

“This has not only political and economic consequences. I think the world will go through some shock waves of adaptation,” he added.

The south and east are taking up a bigger seat in this new world, as illustrated by the participation of emerging giants like India, whose “India Exclusive” campaign is competing for wall space with Russia.

Compared to a decade ago, Chinese representation is up five-fold and that from India is up four-fold, said Robert Greenhill, who is the WEF’s chief business officer, reflecting the power shift.

Several Indian ministers including those for home affairs, finance and commerce and industry will be at Davos, while China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming is expected to give a rundown of the country’s decade as a member of the World Trade Organisation.

With US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also on the guest list, Washington’s concerns over its trade balance with China and the value of the renminbi against the US dollar is expected to be a subject of discussion.

Beyond issues surrounding the emerging giants, the 2,500 participants at the forum are also expected to focus on the ongoing eurozone debt crisis.

Participants will be looking to Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou for a progress report on Athens’ fight to contain its debt since its near meltdown a year ago.

Other European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron will also be at hand to discuss issues in the region.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is swing by to outline the G20 agenda under France’s presidency.

Latin American and African leaders due at the meeting include Mexican President Felipe Calderon, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.