War and peace, and a morning workout, at Russian Energy Week
Saudi Arabia, eager to promote all aspects of life in the Kingdom, could learn a lesson or two from the Russians when it comes to staging a business conference.
The organizers of Russian Energy Week (REW) in Moscow manage to combine business, history and culture with a challenging aerobic workout — and that was just the accreditation process.
First, the business. REW is Russia’s play for pre-eminence in the energy forum space, a crown hitherto held by CERA Week in Houston, Texas, sometimes dubbed the “Oilman’s Davos.”
It has a fair chance of success I reckon. Russia is the world’s biggest oil producer, still just ahead of the US, and Moscow is a great city. Any fun thing you can do in Houston you can do just as well in Moscow, I imagine.
The Russian capital oozes history and culture. I have been here several times, but always find something new and unexpected. Still fresh in my memory is the row of gigantic black steel crosses on the road from Sheremetyevo airport, representing the furthest line of Nazi advance in 1941, which chilled me on my first visit there decades ago.
This time, the new discovery was the Manege, the early 19th century building where the REW is held. It was originally an indoor riding academy built by Czar Alexander I, conqueror of Napoleon, so his cavalry could keep in top shape in the depths of winter. It later became a concert hall and art gallery.
Surrounding the Manege are some of Moscow’s best-known historical sites. You catch a glimpse of golden domes from its windows — the nearby towers of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, another rebuilt masterpiece after the original was destroyed by Stalin in one of his bouts of Soviet atheism.
Moscow oozes history and culture. I have been here several times, but always find something new and unexpected.
You have to walk a bit from the Manege to see the archetypal Russian church, the magnificent St. Basil’s Cathedral at the far end of Red Square, but it is worth the walk. Past the statue of Soviet general Georgy Zhukov, the man more responsible than any other (including jealous Stalin) for the defeat of Adolf Hitler, past the red granite mausoleum of Lenin, over the cobbles where tanks and intercontinental ballistics roll every year to celebrate Russian military might, you are drawn inescapably to the multicolored onion domes of the ultimate Moscow tourist site. They are mesmerising.
Head back to the Manege, and you can take in the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812. Less well known than the huge Museum of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) close by, it is an impressive reminder that you should never, ever invade Russia.
I got to know the smaller museum quite well on the first morning of REW, and this is where the aerobic exercise comes in.
During the energy week, the building doubles as an accreditation center. It’s about a kilometer from the Manege, so that’s not a particularly convenient arrangement — especially when most streets are blocked by surly police officers who order you instead to the underground crossings formed by the Metro stations.
By the time I had traveled from the Manege to the museum and back again, I must have done a few kilometers, and was staring to feel a bit footsore, even at nine in the morning.
When the police officer on the barrier looked at my badge and said “need two” before barring my entry, my goodwill failure was imminent. But you don’t really want to protest too loudly to a man carrying an automatic weapon, so off I trudged back to the museum to get the second badge that would enable me to enter the forum. When I finally got there, I collapsed in a seat in the press center, reflecting on the past couple of hours.
There you have the Russian Energy Week experience. War and peace, history and culture, and some rigorous urban exercise — all in a couple of hours before the event got down to business.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai