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Russians at the Top of the World: the Russia-Singapore Business Forum 2010
Ambassador Michael Tay
Executive Director, RSBF

Why Singapore? That was a recurring question posed by many journalists, with a sense of wonderment about why Russia would choose to send its best and brightest entrepreneurs to the 5th Russia-Singapore Business Forum (RSBF 2010) held in Singapore from 26-29 September. Over the course of the few days in Singapore, things would become clear.


RSBF 2010 began with a breathtaking opening party, with over 800 people on a roof cantilever 200 meters up, overlooking the final race of the Formula One Grand Prix. It was the mother of all Russian parties, and the envy of many banks that had lobbied to get that space—a marvel of modern architecture. Champagne and Russian Standard vodka flowed without end. To this day, those who were up there continue to speak about the beautiful people congregated in one place. To cap the evening, we had a surprise visit from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, who had decided to leave the race track for the company of the Russians and Asians who came to Singapore for the RSBF. Even the New Zealand PM John Key popped in.

RSBF 2010 created a media buzz, one measure of the success of the forum. Around 90 media representatives from Russia, Singapore and the region attended RSBF 2010. To date, more than 200 items of coverage have been tracked, extending to as far as China and Africa, by prominent international media such as BBC, Dow Jones, Reuters, CCTV. From Russia, there were Rossia 24, Promyshlennik Rossii, RBC, ITAR-TASS, RIA Novosti,, Radio Business FM, Interfax, Russia Today and others. And of course, PASSPORT was at the RSBF as well, in the form of John Ortega, Publisher, and owner of a fashion chain.

More than the media buzz, RSBF 2010 will be known for the calibre of the speakers and participants. Participants numbered more than 700, spanning all the regions of the globe, including the CIS and Asian countries, and developed economies, and across a broad spectrum of industries. Two major institutions, Troika Dialog and Sberbank, continued their key role as our Strategic Partners. Russia’s show of political support was manifest in the participation of Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Sergey Sobyanin, Tatarstan’s President Minnikhanov and the regional leaders from the Far East. On the Singapore side was Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee, who continued his involvement in the much-anticipated “In Conversation” session.

If you were an observer of Russia at the conference, you would immediately grasp the magnitude of great names from the Russian business world that came to Singapore. With the likes of Chubais, Gref, Vardanian, Vekselberg, Tariko, Kaspersky, Kostin, Deripaska, Gens etc, the RSBF 2010 was truly a platform for the keenest Russian minds and entrepreneurs to engage with top Singapore/Asian businessmen on both the emerging forces in the new global economy as well as the concrete practical initiatives that would actually forge business links and tie-ups.

Among the more prominent participants were the former Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, Milan Panic, K Vaman Kamath of the ICICI Bank in India, Francis Yeoh of the YTL Group in Malaysia, former Japanese Senator Kotaro Tamura; from Singapore, Banyan Tree’s Ho Kwon Ping and well-known author and advocate of Asia’s rise, Kishore Mahbubani. In what must be an irony, and perhaps a strong indication of the value of the RSBF, there was a group of top Vietnamese businessmen who were Russian-educated and chose to connect with Russia and the CIS through Singapore.

In substance, RSBF 2010 took Russia/CIS-Singapore/Asia collaboration in a new direction. The focus was on Russia’s modernization drive, initiated by President Medvedev, to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and develop its technological edge. We created practical sessions that would lead to definitive ideas and steps to forge closer business linkages for Russia/CIS and Singapore/Asia. The session on Infrastructure, had top Singapore logistics and industrial park companies discussing collaboration opportunities with Russian companies. The session on technology was focused on Russia’s programme, led by Viktor Vekselberg, to build a “Silicon Valley” or Innograd in Skolkovo. Singapore’s experiences in creating a technology ecosystem were openly discussed to examine how its model and best practices could be adapted for Russia.

As a precursor for the future, several milestones were achieved this year. Agreements were struck to move forward on a few fronts. On the technology front, RUSNANO agreed to launch a joint fund worth US$120 million with Singapore’s Economic Development Board and 360ip (a US venture capital firm) to launch projects involving Russia and Singapore. On the infrastructure front, several MOUs were signed involving joint developments of ports in the Far East and Kaliningrad as well as the master-planning of an IT village in Kazan. The inaugural Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission was held on the margins of the RSBF, co-chaired by DPM Sobyanin and Senior Minister Goh. They signed an overarching Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement that could result in significant cross investments.

To end, I will quote Russian Standard’s Tariko describing a private gourmet dinner that I hosted at the St Regis Hotel for the top Russian and Asian tycoons: “They were sitting like scholars in front of MM Lee, listening to him, the biggest bankers, the biggest industrialists, all sitting in one line in front of MM. This is the respect that we have for Singapore”

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