Ongoing tension between Russia and Ukraine in regard to sovereignty in the Crimea and other regions of Eastern Ukraine has led to the White House encouraging American CEOs to skip the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
The three day economic forum hosted by Russia is set to begin May 22 and has been referred to as Russia’s Davos, referencing the prominent World Economic Forum held annually in Switzerland. In 2013, the Russian forum boasted more than 6,000 attendees from 81 different countries signing contracts that Russia claims reached US$294 million in value.
While U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia have led to an official asset freeze and travel ban against some 18 companies and 66 individuals (primarily Russian government and finance officials), the White House’s directive to skip the economic forum is in no way legally enforceable.
“Obviously, companies will have to make their own decisions, but we believe that the most senior business executives traveling to Russia to make high-profile appearances with Russian government officials at events such as this would send an inappropriate message,” said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson.
The message is a complete turn-around from 2013 when business and finance leaders were being encouraged to attend the conference to further economic cooperation.
Many of the American CEOs are faced with a difficult decision in deciding whether to attend the event since Russia represents a large market and location of operations for some companies. Furthermore, it is said Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps a close eye on the attendance sheets and makes note of those who back out, potentially damaging future business relations and opportunities with the country.
So far, the CEOs of groups such as General Electric, PepsiCo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley have announced that they would not be in attendance, although some may send lower level personnel to represent them.
Source: ABC News, White House Urging US CEOs to Avoid Russian Forum