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The Valdai Forum, which convenes every year behind closed doors, was established in September 2004 at the joint initiative of the Kremlin, the Russian Council for Foreign Policy and Security and the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. The initiators describe it as "a framework for the better understanding of Russian policy" and the idea is to bring closer people who are believed to have an influence on decision makers in the world. "Russia is today playing a central role in the new world order and having an influence also on changing the rules of the game of world economics," the organizers explain. "Since this is the case, the West has to act to cooperate with it."

The forum is named after the lake on whose shores it first convened four years ago. The second gathering was held on a boat that cruised between Moscow and Tver, and during the third, the participants visited the oil fields at Hanti-Mansiysk in Western Siberia and discussed questions concerning energy and security. Last year, the meet was held in Kazan, the capital of the Tartarstan Republic, where they discussed issues relating to the identity of Islamic republics in the Russian federation.

The title chosen for the gathering this year in the midst of the Caucasus crisis is "Russia's role in the geopolitical revolution at the beginning of the 21st century." The forum is being attended by senior officials, diplomats, researchers and journalists, and the participants include Robert Blackwell, former adviser to George Bush Sr. when he was president;the former deputy foreign minister of the Soviet Union, Anatoly Adamishin; and the former prime minister of Slovakia, Jan Carnogursky, who prior to that the deputy prime minister of Czechoslovakia. This year is the first time the forum extended two invitations - to an Israeli journalist and a representative from Iran, the director of Russian studies at Tehran University, Mehdi Sanaie. (Sanaie, who is also an independent member of the Iranian parliament, warmly shook the hand of the Haaretz correspondent but refused to be interviewed or to discuss current affairs).