(Bloomberg) -- German corporate executives plan to discuss economic ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming weeks, even as the U.S. and Europe consider sanctions on the country over concerns about a conflict in Ukraine.
Organized by Berlin-based industry group Ost-Ausschuss der Deutschen Wirtschaft, the video call will take place on March 3. Wholesaler Metro AG, which has a large presence in Russia, told Bloomberg that Chief Executive Officer Steffen Greubel will attend the meeting, which was initially scheduled for this month.
It’s unclear what other executives will attend. Germany’s Ost-Ausschuss is a 70-year-old lobby organization that includes industrial giants like Siemens AG, Volkswagen AG and BASF SE, as well as many small and mid-sized companies with business ties in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The meeting comes at a delicate time for Germany, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz cast as the weak link in the West’s efforts to deter a potential attack on Ukraine -- which the Kremlin has denied it’s planning. His Social Democrats are traditionally open to engaging with Russia, and Germany’s policy toward Moscow has been seen as muddled.
Despite strained political relations, German business has strong ties with Russia. Volkswagen has a car factory, and BASF has six facilities in the country. Germany is also reliant on Russian gas for its energy needs. The controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is awaiting German certification to start operating, is a potential sanctions target.
Russia is Germany’s 14th largest trading partner, with imports and exports totalling 44.6 billion euros ($50 billion) in 2020, according to Germany’s Federal Statistics Office.
The March meeting would follow a two-and-half hour call Putin held Wednesday with Italian business leaders to discuss investment prospects in Russia. The Italian government had asked executives not to take part due to the political tensions, according to an Italian official who asked not to be identified.
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