Siemens CEO Rebuked as German Business Defends Putin PartnershipTony Czuczka
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy chided Siemens AG Chief Executive Officer Joe Kaeser for traveling to Moscow, saying German companies shouldn’t sell out European values to protect business with Russia.
The conflict over Kaeser’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin last week underscores the rival forces tugging at Merkel during the crisis in Ukraine. While the European Union and the U.S. seek to punish Russia for annexing Crimea, many German corporate leaders view Putin as an economic partner.
“Frankly, I found the scene a bit off-key,” Economy and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat who is also vice chancellor, said of Kaeser’s trip to Moscow in an interview with ARD television yesterday, according to an e-mailed transcript. “We don’t want economic sanctions, but we also have to show the Russian president that we can’t accept” his “imperial policy.”
Merkel, who learned Russian while growing up in communist East Germany, heads Russia’s biggest EU trading partner during the worst standoff since the end of the Cold War. Putin risks a “tough reaction” from EU governments if he escalates the crisis over Ukraine, she said on March 26.
While Merkel has said Germany could withstand the economic impact of European economic sanctions against Russia, the heads of Adidas AG, ThyssenKrupp AG and Deutsche Post AG questioned the need for sanctions, according to the transcript of a round-table interview with the Die Welt newspaper published two days ago. It showed the CEOs saying EU policy makers mishandled their engagement with Ukraine while affronting Russia.
Asked if Putin must be stopped, Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said, “I’d turn the question around,” according to Die Welt. “I wonder if one shouldn’t have included Putin in the process much earlier, rather than starting talks when it’s too late.”
ThyssenKrupp CEO Heinrich Hiesinger said “Russia felt cornered.” Deutsche Post CEO Frank Appel said the U.S. and its allies had meddled “in the front yard of another big power” and questioned calls by EU leaders including Merkel to review Europe’s energy ties with Russia, saying Germany “will always be dependent on others” for fossil fuel, according to Die Welt.
Kaeser said meeting with Putin showed that Munich-based Siemens, Europe’s biggest engineering company, “won’t be overly influenced by short-term turbulences” involving Russia. “We’re counting on dialogue and mutual understanding,” he said in a ZDF television interview after returning from his trip, which he said Merkel’s chancellery knew about in advance.