German rail chief concerned about long-term business in Russia
* German, Russian railways cooperate hauling China exports
* Siemens head gets criticism for meeting Putin
* Merkel joins EU sanctions, hopes more will be needed
By Marilyn Gerlach
BERLIN, March 27 (Reuters) - The head of Germany's state railway will travel to Moscow next month to ensure its business with Russian railways is not put at risk despite the chill in political relations over the annexation of Crimea.
The European Union, United States and other western nations have imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine and have threatened broader economic penalties if the crisis escalates.
Russia is a major trade partner for Germany and many companies are worried about losing out on business if further sanctions take effect.
"For us, de-escalation is imperative," Deutsche Bahn chief Ruediger Grube told a news conference on Thursday while presenting the railways's annual results.
Grube said he would travel to Moscow in mid-April, while board member Karl-Friedrich Rausch, who oversees transportation and logistics, will visit the Russian capital next week.
One of the individuals targeted by U.S. President Barack Obama for sanctions is Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin. It was not immediately clear if either of the German executives would meet Yakunin.
German carmakers and electronic firms producing in China transport some of their goods to Germany via Deutsche Bahn in cooperation with partners such as Russia's state owned railway.
"It took decades to build up this partnership, as well as a lot of effort and energy, but it can be quickly destroyed," Grube said, adding the business with Russia's railway generated 250 million euros ($344.64 million) in sales last year.
NO COMBAT SIMULATION GEAR
Joe Kaeser, head of German conglomerate Siemens, drew criticism from some German politicians for meeting Putin in Russia on Wednesday to secure his firm's interests.
Defending the meeting, Kaeser - who said he had informed Merkel's office of his long-planned visit before his departure from Germany - argued that Siemens supported a "trusting relationship" with Russian companies.
Merkel, who has said she is ready to impose further sanctions if needed, responded to the Siemens visit saying business contacts with Russia were still in place and she hoped sanctions would not have to be ratcheted up.
Russia is Germany's 11th biggest commercial partner, with trade reaching 76.5 billion euros last year according to the trade association Ost Ausschuss. Some 300,000 German jobs are linked to business there and Germany, Europe's biggest economy, depends on Russia for 35 percent of its gas.
Striking a different tone, Berlin last week barred defence contractor Rheinmetall from sending combat simulation gear to Russia under an existing contract to deliver about 100 million euros worth of technology to a Russian combat training centre. (Writing by Marilyn Gerlach and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Tom Heneghan)