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Government discouraging business travel to Russia amid Ukraine crisis

A Ukrainian Interior Ministry officer mans a checkpoint outside the eastern Ukrainian village of Bylbasivka May 14, 2014.


The Canadian government has begun publicly discouraging business executives from travelling to Russia in a new effort to further shun Vladimir Putin's regime over its aggression in Ukraine. The measure comes amid a growing Canadian boycott of a major global energy conference in Moscow next month.

The federal government, the governments of Alberta and British Columbia, along with Suncor Energy Inc., one of Canada's largest oil companies, said they are cancelling plans to attend the World Petroleum Congress, set for June 15-19 in Moscow.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast on Wednesday urged Canadian business people to skip prominent events in Russia such as the World Petroleum Congress, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in late May, and the Innoprom industrial exhibition, set for July in Yekaterinburg.

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"We encourage Canadian senior business executives to refrain from attending high-profile events in Russia," Mr. Fast said in a statement. "Canada is determined to support Ukraine and will continue to work with our allies and like-minded countries to apply pressure that will further isolate Russia economically and politically, until the Putin regime clearly demonstrates its respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The federal Trade Minister's remarks follow Ottawa's opposition last week to allowing Russia to join the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an exclusive global forum of 34 countries. The OECD has delayed consideration of Russia's ascension.

Earlier this year, Russia seized Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula region of Crimea, and the West believes Moscow is behind pro-Kremlin separatist rebels who have taken control of cities in eastern Ukraine.

The Alberta government said it will not only drop out of the 21st World Petroleum Congress, but will ask Canadian companies that choose to attend the event to avoid interacting with Russian officials. Alberta is home to a significant number of Canadians with Ukrainian heritage.

Suncor said it has cancelled plans to attend in light of Russia's move on Ukraine. "We feel WPC is important, however, given the uncertainty in the region we have chosen to not attend," Sneh Seetal, a spokeswoman for the Canadian company, said in a statement. Suncor's operations are focused in Canada's oil sands, but it has operations around the world. It also has global partners.

Canadian political leaders have condemned Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine for months, but the boycott of the energy conference marks the first time players in Canada's energy sector have publicly denounced Moscow's moves. International companies are also fleeing the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"Alberta stands with the people of the Ukraine," Alberta Premier Dave Hancock told reporters. "Faced with the ongoing violence and the violation of the Ukrainian sovereign territory, we have made the decision to withdraw all of our provincial support for the World Petroleum Congress."

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Companies based in Alberta are free to attend the conference but Edmonton will pressure them to stay away from Russian officials. "We will be encouraging companies that do decide to continue go, because it may be important for them, not to participate in government-sponsored events," Mr. Hancock said.

The Leduc-Nisku Economic Development Association and the Edmonton International Airport have also dropped out, noting they are partners with the Alberta government and are following its example.

Other Canadian companies, organizations, and provincial governments listed on the WPC's list of exhibitors include: Calfrac Well Services Ltd., the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association, Enerflex Ltd, Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp., the World Petroleum Council Canada, Quebec, and Nova Scotia's Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.

Executives at Enerflex and Pacific Rubiales were travelling Wednesday and unavailable to comment. Representatives from the other organizations were either unable to comment or did not return calls or e-mails. Alberta, when making its announcement, said it "continues to support the Canadian Association of World Petroleum Council and its role in organizing the World Petroleum Congress."

The WPC takes place every three years and is a chance for major energy players to connect with one another and discuss challenges facing the industry. Roughly 3,000 delegates from about 80 countries are registered to attend this year's event. About 400 chief executive officers and organizational heads are on the list, as well as 30 government ministers, according to the WPC's website.

Alberta may have sent the premier or government ministers to attend the WPC in Moscow, Mr. Hancock said. They would typically attend ministerial sessions, host events, and provide introductions for companies. Alberta planned to have a booth at the Canadian pavilion.

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The year's WPC will address "recent industry and geopolitical developments," and will assess how global energy supply and demand will develop, according to its website. Key players addressing these issues include BP PLC's CEO, Statoil's CEO, secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the president of Brazil's Petrobas, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, India Oil and Natural Gas Corp.'s chairman, and other powerful players, the website says.

Calgary hosted the 16th WPC in 2000.

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