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The youngest person at Davos is bullish … on Russia

Roman Chukov - Davos' youngest participant.Roman Chukov - Davos' youngest participant.
Roman Chukov - Davos' youngest participant.Courtesy of Russia G20

Even among the many powerful people in Davos, Switzerland this week, Roman Chukov, at 22, is particularly unique. He is the youngest invitee to this year’s World Economic Forum, the global confab that draws business leaders, billionaires, and politicians to the Swiss Alps each year.

You might expect the youngest person at Davos to be a technology whiz kid. And Chukov may be one, but that’s not his job. He is in economic development.

Chukov’s business title in the Davos directory is awesome, especially for a 22-year-old. He is listed as the head expert of the Moscow City Investment Agency. But Chukov says he prefers his additional title, which is development director of the Russian Trade & Economic Development Council. His job is to help draw international investors and companies to Russia, which is quite the challenging task right now. Falling oil prices look to be crippling Russia’s economy. And the conflict in Ukraine has made investor nervous about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. Chukov also helps promote business in Russia. Here’s his pitch and a bit on his experience in Davos this year.

Fortune: There are some who feel that this year’s World Economic Conference seems even more out of touch than usual. Do you get that sense?

Roman Chukov: No. There are a lot of interesting discussions that seem right to me. No one thinks the condition of the economy is a utopia right now. The general sense is that the BRICS [the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] will continue to play an important role. Without the BRIC countries, the world economy cannot grow at 2%. That sounds correct to me.

The value of the ruble and the Russian stock market have plunged. Is Russia a good place to invest right now?

There’s been an outflow of speculative capital. But the long-term investors have stayed, because Russia is a huge opportunity for investors. There are some people who are afraid to invest in Russia right now. But the people who are not afraid, they will be at the top. Those who are afraid will be the losers. If I was an investor with $1 billion, I would put it in Russia.

But won’t low oil prices continue to be a problem for Russia?

It’s not low oil prices that are a problem. It’s volatility that is a problem. We can survive $70 oil or even $50 a barrel oil. What’s hard to survive is the wide price swings.

So you think 2015 will be better for Russia?

It’s been a year of turbulence. But Russia is already in the process of diversifying its economy. We are looking more seriously at what we can do. We can extract oil and make weapons but we want to be better at pharmaceuticals, making planes, and agriculture. Russia can produce everything. We have vegetables. We have all different kinds of meats.

That seems like an obvious thing to do. Why hasn’t Russia diversified away from oil before?

Innovation is happening everywhere in Russia, it’s a lot to change. People are now aware of that and that’s great. People can no longer sit on their oil pipe. Now everyone realizes it’s time for action.

But do outside international investors get that?

What is really important to know about Russia is that what we have is a huge source of human capital, and it’s an innovative workforce. There are lots of think tanks and academic research. Russia invented the radio and sent the first person into space. Also, what Putin has said is that the rules for business are not going to change. And we will have enterprise zones and territories of special development to attract outside investors, as well as tax holidays to attract industries that we think are socially important.

Russia has everything an investor needs to be successful in the business sphere. People who want to invest in Russia will not regret it.

Thanks.

For a very different take on investing in Russia, read “Why you shouldn’t invest in the Russian kleptocracy.”

For more information on the topic, see our stories on “The new world of business.”