Top executives at major United States companies are reconsidering or withdrawing their participation in a Russian international economic forum amid requests from the Obama administration in the face of the growing crisis in Ukraine.
Some executives have been pressed to cancel their attendance directly by appeals from officials such as Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, held this year from May 22-24, is an annual affair prized by Russian President Vladimir Putin as validation of his country’s economic influence.
Morgan Stanley Chairman James Gorman, who is listed as a forum participant, has canceled his plans to attend. And Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, also listed as a participant in the forum’s website, is also unlikely to participate, a person briefed on the decision said. The person was not authorized to comment publicly by name and insisted on anonymity.
One senior financial-services official said that Lew placed the calls to CEOs about two weeks ago and that the calls were well-received. He said Lew’s emphasis was that top officials not attend, but did not extend the request to lower-ranking company executives. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private calls.
Among those who participated in last year’s forum but won’t this year are Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, Alcoa chief executive Klaus Kleinfeld and ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance.
“In light of the U.S. government’s requirements, Alcoa has adjusted its attendance at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and will participate via its most senior Russian executives,” Alcoa spokeswoman Monica Orbe said in a statement.
Citigroup spokesman Mark Costiglio said that while Corbat would not attend, the company would have several other representatives at the forum.
Caterpillar Inc. CEO Doug Oberhelman will not attend, though the company does plan to be represented at the forum, company spokeswoman Rachel Potts said. “We are monitoring the situation closely,” she said.
“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, given Russia’s behavior, including its clear failure to carry out its commitments under the Geneva accord,” White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson said.
She said U.S. government officials will not attend the forum this year.
The U.S. and the European Union both ordered sanctions against Russian officials and individuals in the aftermath of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. They have stopped short of imposing broader sanctions on Russia’s economic sectors, but Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that they would move to harsher penalties if Russia disrupts Ukraine’s May 25 presidential elections.
White House spokesman Jay Carney last week confirmed the outreach from Obama-administration officials to U.S. chief executives, saying attendance at the forum would not be appropriate “given the flagrant violations of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity and its consistent efforts to further destabilize Ukraine.”