(Adds Conoco CEO quote, paragraphs 6-7)
By Megan Davies and Tom Bergin
MOSCOW/LONDON May 13 Around a dozen chief
executives and chairmen of major U.S. and European corporations
have withdrawn from an economic conference in Russia as pressure
between Moscow and the West grows over the crisis in Ukraine.
Eleven business leaders who were listed in late March as
scheduled to attend the May 22-24 St. Petersburg International
Economic Forum are no longer on the forum's website.
Only one company said their executive's decision to stay
away was because of political tensions with most declining to
give a reason. The cancellations, however, coincide with the
United States and Europe considering further sanctions on Moscow
over violence in eastern Ukraine, which western governments have
blamed in part on Russia.
Sanctions have already been imposed in reaction to Russia's
annexation of Crimea.
The chief executives of oil producer ConocoPhillips,
jet maker Airbus Group, Visa Inc, Aluminium group
Alcoa, Siemens, Citigroup, Morgan
Stanley, International Paper Company, Pepsi
, Italian oil group Eni and the chairman of
consulting group Bain & Company are among those no longer
scheduled to attend the forum.
Ryan Lance, the chief executive of Conoco, said he decided
not to attend after discussions with the U.S. government.
"Like many of the American CEOs and industry leaders, we
were approached by the State Department and talked to about many
of the concerns that they had," Lance told reporters after the
company's annual meeting on Tuesday. "So based on some of those
concerns and comments I made a decision to not attend this
More than a dozen Western business leaders, including
Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, remain on
the programme but sources close to some of the companies said
other bosses planned to pull out. Goldman declined comment.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said this month that U.S.
officials had been discussing the event, Russia's answer to the
Davos World Economic Forum, with business leaders, and had made
it clear that attending would not be appropriate given "flagrant
violations of a sovereign nation's territorial integrity."
Business sources said the withdrawal of CEOs from the forum,
which is held "under the auspices" of the president, according
to its website, could be considered as a sleight by Russian
President Vladimir Putin and could damage their companies'
businesses in Russia.
"I am sure that the forum will be held in a friendly
atmosphere and that any withdrawals will not spoil the
atmosphere," said Deputy Minister of Economic Development Sergey
Belyakov in a video interview posted on the forum's website.
"Many companies confirmed their participation and we have no
problems with the quality of our participants or of the number.
Around 6,000 participants confirmed - many top managers of
Russian and foreign companies that are in Forbes and Fortune
ratings," Belyakov said.
"I am surprised at the pressure coming from the White House
administration. The only parties which will suffer will be
Belyakov said Russia understands the atmosphere in which
American companies are making their decisions and said there
would be no risks for those companies in Russia who cancel.
Representatives of Pepsi, Citigroup and Siemens confirmed
their bosses had withdrawn, and blamed scheduling clashes.
Representatives of Airbus, Visa, Morgan Stanley, International
Paper, Bain & Company, declined comment or were not available
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Jens Hack in
Frankfurt, Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Anna Driver in
Houston, Lauren LaCapra, David Henry, Ernest Schneyder and Lewis
Krauskopf in New York, Ludmila Danilova in Moscow; Editing by
Anna Willard and Grant McCool)