Metro CEO sticks to plan to attend Russia conference

DUESSELDORF, Germany Tue May 20, 2014 12:16pm EDT

DUESSELDORF, Germany May 20 (Reuters) - Olaf Koch, the chief executive of German retailer Metro AG, is sticking to a plan to attend an economic conference in St Petersburg hosted by Russian President Putin after other executives pulled out.

U.S. executives have withdrawn from the conference starting on Thursday after the White House made clear that their participation would be frowned upon due to the Ukraine crisis.

On Monday, the CEO of big German utility E.ON said he would not attend due to "important meetings at short notice", leaving Koch as the only major German CEO still on the guest list, although other European CEOs are due to attend.

A Metro spokesman said Koch still planned to take part, in the interest of the company's 22,000 employees in Russia.

"Especially in the current difficult situation, we think it makes sense to talk to each other and maintain dialogue," he said.

Germany has close economic ties to Russia. Over 6,000 German firms are active there, and Germany receives roughly a third of its oil and gas from Russia.

German industry has been ramping up efforts to dissuade Chancellor Angela Merkel from imposing tough new economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, warning of lasting damage to domestic firms and the broader economy if Moscow is hit hard.

Metro is Russia's fourth-biggest retailer behind X5 , Magnit and French chain Auchan, operating 72 cash-and-carry stores which made sales of 183 billion roubles ($5.30 billion) in 2013.

The turmoil in Ukraine forced Metro to postpone a plan for a stock market floatation of a stake in its Russian business and has also hit its share price.

($1 = 34.5447 Russian Roubles) (Reporting by Matthias Inverardi; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Pravin Char)

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