The Riyadh forum: Meet the real people behind the names

By Tatiana Oliviero, CNN • Updated 16th January 2018 The World Economic Forum brings influential people together to discuss the global state of affairs. But only the real people came to Riyadh. Here’s a…

The Riyadh forum: Meet the real people behind the names

By Tatiana Oliviero, CNN • Updated 16th January 2018

The World Economic Forum brings influential people together to discuss the global state of affairs. But only the real people came to Riyadh. Here’s a round-up of some of the real-life faces that dominated the Saudi investment conference in Riyadh.

U.S. President Donald Trump was due to attend the conference at the end of November but canceled at the last minute saying he wanted to focus on his first year in office. As soon as he made that decision and the news broke on Twitter, it was impossible to avoid the concept of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also withdrew from the conference.

Trump and Putin (pictured above in Paris)

They have a long and complicated history, including apparently having an affair in 1971, their first year in office. But the two men are first and foremost global adversaries, and this has been very much on their minds in the past year.

After Trump upset the West by lifting sanctions against Russia and agreeing to cooperate on fighting the ISIS terror group and working to end the conflict in Syria, Putin outlined why Russia could no longer cooperate with America.

The Saudi Arabian government

While there are lots of reasons why Saudi Arabia needs investments (and more importantly, investments that will be profitable for the Saudis), the main one is jobs.

And the Saudi state is itself a major buyer of commodities — mostly oil. But Riyadh has not always been a friend of Western companies, which has left a void in the market. Now that the importance of the gas market has increased, there is a new era of oil and gas investment, especially in Russia.

Trump (right) talks to Putin

And this is the very point that Trump has turned this conference into. The President wants to pitch to American companies and investors a business plan in which Russia takes over Aramco, and an American company is out, replaced by a Russian one.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the king and heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia, is the face of Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia wants to get its economy off oil, and it wants to pump as much as possible to take the country back from its economic decline — but to do that, it needs money. And Putin, who is fond of building coalitions, can help create one.

Check out CNN Mag’s special report: “The Power Couple: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump”

American billionaires

Billionaire energy investor Leon Black is the founder of Apollo Global Management, one of the largest private equity groups in the world.

Black said that he was skeptical of the newly enacted US tax reforms but was pleased the U.S. had extended the “investment deduction” for private equity firms.

“We look at the level of regulation in the United States and the level of private equity regulation, it is still very high,” Black said.

But the many billionaires were not shy about sharing their views on Russia.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he thought the Trump administration was a disaster.

“I voted for Trump and I think he’s a disaster,” Kalanick said.

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