BERLIN — German industry chiefs are planning to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin this year, despite Moscow’s military deployments on the Ukrainian border.
“We traditionally organize an annual business meeting with President Putin and ministers relevant to the economy to address current issues in economic relations,” the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (OA), a lobby organization aimed at furthering business ties with Russia and countries in Eastern Europe, said in an emailed statement.
“In 2021, the meeting was canceled at short notice due to the coronavirus, but planning is underway again for 2022,” it continued.
Asked about a list of attendees, a staff member said that the OA does “not name the companies involved in such meetings as a matter of principle,” but said that usually between 15 and 20 companies invested in Russia were represented.
Among the members of the OA are large German companies such as Allianz, BASF, Siemens and Volkswagen.
The German government has come under fire in recent weeks over what many of its NATO allies perceive as a lack of commitment when it comes to showing support for Ukraine, amid the buildup of 100,000 Russian troops on its border and the threat of an invasion.
Earlier this week, Berlin was ridiculed for sending 5,000 protective helmets to Ukraine rather than weapons — prompting Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko to ask if they would be sent pillows next.
Still, according to the OA, planning for the meeting with Putin will go ahead, although it won’t be held before March.
“The whole thing always happens in a not so easy environment — that’s especially true this year, of course, but it hasn’t been completely different in recent years,” a staff member at the OA said.
“We have known this for 70 years, you have countless crises like this in history.”
German companies are not the only ones creating headlines over their decision to talk to the Russian president, though. A meeting between Putin and Italian business leaders went ahead this week despite Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi urging organizers to cancel it.