Wintershall CEO Rainer Seele has every reason to be concerned about the tension between Germany and Russia: His company drills for natural gas in Siberia, trades Russian gas and is one the closest partners of Russian gas producer Gazprom. Mr. Seele is also president of the German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Trade. Handelsblatt met with him after a business trip to St. Petersburg.
Handelsblatt: Mr. Seele, how did it go in St. Petersburg?
Mr. Seele: Not so well. I watched an ice hockey game. Unfortunately, St. Petersburg lost 1-2 against Torpedo Novgorod.
But you must have done some business as well.
Of course. I traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with Alexander Medvedev.
The deputy chairman of Gazprom, who is also a friend of yours, right?
Yes. We have developed a friendship over the years.
And it has endured in these difficult times?
Certainly. The number of friends I have hasn’t declined in the past year. However, we often talk about the Ukraine crisis, and of course it stands between us. Naturally, this creates an obstacle to business relationships.
Because the Russians have no appreciation for European policy and vice-versa?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand the other side. Our Russian business partners are highly supportive of President [Vladimir] Putin’s policies. And no one understands the sanctions, because they affect the general population most of all.
The sanctions are not undermining Putin’s authority, as was intended. On the contrary, they have encouraged the Russians to close ranks. Nevertheless, I do try to explain the West’s perspective, although it’s very difficult.