Around 11,000 employees came to the capital for an online conference covering topics from family values to geopolitics.
By Pjotr Sauer and Jake Cordell
Thousands of employees from companies linked to sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska were dispatched to Moscow for a business trip on the final day of voting in Russia’s parliamentary elections, and some of them told The Moscow Times they were expected to be on standby for a pro-government rally in the capital.
Several enterprises partly owned or controlled by Deripaska, once Russia’s richest man and who has been referred to as President Vladimir Putin’s “favorite industrialist,” sent staff to the capital for an education and self-development program dubbed the “Moscow Forum.”
Hosts from the Rusal aluminum giant, which organized the event, told attendees 11,000 people attended. Through interviews with more than a dozen participants and tracking social media posts, The Moscow Times has learned how employees were bussed and flown to Moscow in the early hours of Sunday Sept. 19 — the final day of voting in Russia’s controversial State Duma elections — from as far away as Siberia.
During the four-day trip, employees stayed in chic four-star hotels in the capital, watched online lectures on topics from gender relations and family values to nation building and geopolitics and participated in quest excursions. The Moscow Forum, which Rusal did not advertise or announce outside the company, was capped off with a private concert at a stadium in central Moscow.
In interviews, three forum attendees from different companies said their superiors told them they would also be expected to attend a political rally during their time in Moscow. Another four said that while they had not been personally ordered to attend a rally, rumors that the trip had a political angle and that they could be called upon to attend a pro-government protest in Moscow were swirling in their factories. The Moscow Times has withheld their surnames.
In a statement to The Moscow Times, a spokesman for Rusal’s workers’ councils — quasi-labor unions inside each plant — said Deripaska attended the final day of the forum, and that it was an educational conference organized by them. The statement did not respond to claims that workers were expected to participate in a political rally.
“The forum was a series of training events on various topics — from the production system that Oleg Deripaska introduced at his enterprises to lectures on economics, medicine and artificial intelligence. Such events are held regularly — this is a tradition laid down by the company founder,” Sergei Filipov, chairman of the Rusal workers’ councils said in the statement.
Representatives of Deripaska himself did not respond to a request for comment.