Moscow Renaissance Hotel Refuses to Host Other Russia Conference

On June 7, 2007, the Other Russia contacted the Renaissance Hotel [owned by the Marriott Group] in Moscow to reserve space for the second Other Russia Conference, scheduled for July 7-8. They replied with a price quote and after brief negotiations we awaited their final confirmation. Instead, on June 14th, we received a rejection of our request with the explanation they didn’t want any “disturbances” that might affect their other customers.

We pointed out that the only disturbances that took place at our last Conference, held at the same Renaissance Hotel in July 2006, were committed by the state security forces. Our delegates and activists were harassed and several were arrested on the spurious charges that have now become routine. We were not intimidated, but apparently the crackdown had its intended chilling effect on the management of the Moscow Renaissance. Their rejection was final. They would rather leave the space vacant during the low season than host an opposition conference.

We communicated this startling turn of events to the corporate headquarters of Marriott in Washington DC. They replied that they stood by the decision of the Moscow management and had nothing further to say on the matter.

It goes without saying that Russian-owned hotels and convention centers would not accept the business of anyone in open opposition to Vladimir Putin. Many printers across the country have refused to print our newspapers; dozens of venues have declared themselves unavailable for our events. Our hopes were that a hotel owned by an American company would be more interested in their bottom line than in appeasing the Kremlin. But Putin’s security forces have succeeded in making it clear to the business community in Russia that if the will of the Kremlin is flouted, there will be very real effects on their bottom line.

The Marriott Group has the right to refuse to serve anyone, of course. But this turn of events says much about the business environment in Russia today. Just days ago President Vladimir Putin spoke at an economic forum in St. Petersburg touting the openness of the Russian commercial atmosphere. He failed to add that this is only the case if you are willing to hew closely to the Kremlin line. “Disturbances” come in many forms, as many companies and individuals have discovered. If you are going to do business under the rule of “KGB Incorporated,” you inevitably discover that they are very active shareholders.

Other Russia is currently seeking another site to host the conference, titled “A Strategy for Victory,” where the agenda will include establishing a unity platform and plans to launch the campaign of a unified opposition candidate for the 2008 presidential elections.