DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the world’s political and business elite to set “new precedents” for punishment for Russia’s invasion of his country, calling for attendees at the opening session of the World Economic Forum to “decide whether brute force will rule the world.”
Zelensky’s words were heard at the strangest of Davos forums, where for more than 50 years political and financial elites and even adversaries have chummily met in a Swiss ski resort town to debate global economic perils and possibilities. War has hardened relationships since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, though, and a walk past the “Russia House” where no one from Russia could be found offered a vivid example.
The Russia House once was a standard fixture of Russian soft power at Davos and an outpost of the Russian lobbying group Roscongress Foundation. On Monday, the site where Russian and international officials had regularly met for cocktail-fueled schmoozing had signs in its windows from Ukrainian activists and allies: “This used to be the Russian House in Davos. Now it’s the Russian War Crimes House in Davos.”
1/2 The @PinchukFund rented the #Russian House in #Davos and turned it into the "Russia War Crimes House". An exhibition will be held there from 22 to 29 May with testimonies of #RussianWarCrimes during the brutal invasion of Ukraine. #UkraineRussiaWar pic.twitter.com/PMUrPFrF15— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 22, 2022
No Russian representatives, from government or business, were invited to this year’s Davos forum, which usually takes place in the winter. It is the first forum since the 1990s — when armed conflicts broke among nations of the former Yugoslavia — to be held while war rages on the continent.
Zelensky took note of the new look of the Russia House and named it as the “Russian War Crimes House.”
“Russia has done it to itself by becoming a state of war criminals,” he said in the video address.
Zelensky also urged business leaders to carry out a “complete withdrawal of foreign businesses” in Russia and relocate their enterprises to Ukraine. He called for international assistance to unblock his country’s Black Sea ports to speed Ukrainian agricultural exports to countries around the world, and he floated the idea of a diplomatic “corridor” to move these goods.
The Ukrainian president expressed thanks for the military aid and equipment rushed to the country, as well as to the “hundreds of millions of people in democratic countries” who he said were putting pressure on their governments to confront the Russian invasion.
But he added that if Ukraine’s long-standing pleas for better weaponry and stiffer sanctions on Russia had been heard earlier, Russia probably would not have been able to invade.
Zelensky stressed that, whenever the war ends, Ukraine’s allies need to create the security and political conditions that will dissuade Russia from invading again. And he had data to consider: So far, Ukraine has sustained at least half a trillion dollars in losses, he said.
“With a neighbor like this, anything can happen any time, and the war may repeat itself,” Zelensky said.
Senior Ukrainian officials are slated to attend Davos in person, including the foreign minister, two deputy prime ministers and the mayor of Kyiv, and there are a slew of Ukraine-related panels at the conference. One panel focuses on humanitarian needs, another is about “health care in times of crisis,” and another addresses food deficits triggered by the loss of farming in Ukraine, an economy that fed a global supply chain of grains and cooking oil.
The United States and other nations have determined that Russian troops have committed war crimes, citing intelligence and documentation of execution-style killings on civilians in the port city of Mariupol. President Biden has called the invasion a “genocide.” Russia has said the allegations are false and no war crimes are being committed in Ukraine.
The Victor Pinchuk Foundation and the PinchukArtCentre worked with Ukrainian officials, artists and media outlets to turn the Russia House into a space that “highlight how Ukrainians defend democracy and their freedom not only in a physical war, but also in a social and political front,” the foundation said in a statement.
The foundation, named for Ukrainian oligarch and businessman Victor Pinchuk, “aims to inform about the main facts, share faces, names and dates and provide at least some of the victims a platform from which to tell their real story.”
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.
The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.
In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.
The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.