By Dominic Gates The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — Boeing chief operating officer and vice chairman Dennis Muilenburg has pulled out of an economic conference in St. Petersburg next week after pressure from the White House over Russia’s role in the crisis in Ukraine.
“We just took the decision over the last couple days to revise our participation,” said Boeing spokesman John Dern. “We’ve changed plans at the request of the U.S. government.”
Lower-level Boeing executives will still attend, however.
The company’s delegation will now be led by Sergey Kravchenko, the president of Boeing Russia, and will also include Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice presidents John Byrne and Marty Bentrott.
“We’re emphasizing the fact that the company values its long-term and important relationships with its partners and customers in Russia and hopes for improved political circumstances in the future,” Dern said.
In an advance message to participants in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which starts May 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote that the international community can move forward “merely by acting in concert, respecting mutual interests, and further consolidating constructive relationships.”
But as the situation in Ukraine deteriorated and Russia acted unilaterally, the Obama administration asked executives of top U.S. companies not to attend.
Boeing has deep business ties with Russia.
The jet maker has spent $7.5 billion there since 1991 and plans to increase that to $27 billion by 2021, including $18 billion spent on titanium and $5 billion for design and engineering services, according to the company’s website.
Last fall, Boeing announced that it will double the capacity of its joint venture with Russian firm VSMPO-Avisma, the world’s largest titanium producer.
At Boeing’s engineering design center in Moscow, about 250 direct employees manage a team of about 1,200 contract engineers who have worked on the 787 and 747-8 jets among other projects.
In January, just before the outbreak of the crisis, an offshoot of the Moscow center opened with an initial 50 engineers in Kiev, Ukraine.
In April, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said Boeing has “good contingency plans in place” if its business in Ukraine or Russia is disrupted.