White House urging U.S. CEOs to avoid Russian forum

WASHINGTON — Top executives at major United States companies are reconsidering or withdrawing their participation in a Russian international economic forum amid requests from the Obama administration in the face of the growing crisis in Ukraine.

Some executives have been pressed to cancel their attendance direct appeals from officials such as Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, held this year from May 22 to May 24, is an annual affair prized by Russian President Vladimir Putin as validation of his country’s economic influence.

Morgan Stanley Chairman James Gorman, who is listed as a forum participant, has cancelled his plans to attend. And Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, also listed as a participant in the forum’s website, is also unlikely to participate, a person briefed on the decision said. The person was not authorized to comment publicly by name and insisted on anonymity.

Among those who participated in last year’s forum but won’t this year are Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, Alcoa chief executive Klaus Kleinfeld and ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance. Citigroup spokesman Mark Costiglio said that while Corbat would not attend, the company would have several other representatives at the forum.

“Obviously companies will have to make their own decisions, but we believe that the most senior business executives traveling to Russia to make high-profile appearances with Russian government officials at events such as this would send an inappropriate message, given Russia’s behavior, including its clear failure to carry out its commitments under the Geneva accord,” White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson said.

She said U.S. government officials will not attend the forum this year.

The U.S. and the European Union both ordered sanctions against Russian officials and individuals in the aftermath of Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. They have stopped short of imposing broader sanctions on Russia’s economic sectors, but Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that they would move to harsher penalties if Russia disrupts Ukraine’s May 25 presidential elections.

White House spokesman Jay Carney last week confirmed the outreach from Obama administration officials to U.S. chief executives, saying attendance at the forum would not be appropriate “given the flagrant violations of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity and its consistent efforts to further destabilize Ukraine.”

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