The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:
Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.
So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.
In a visit that was billed by newspapers as a “vote of confidence” in Putin, Kaeser posed alongside Putin and declared: “Siemens has been present in Russia since 1853—a presence that has survived many highs and low. We want to maintain the conversation even in today’s politically difficult times. For us, dialogue is a crucial part of a long-term relationship.”
It’s obvious what Kaeser is up to: He is trying to protect $2.99 billion in sales that his company had in Russia last year. Yet it is hard to make the case that Russia is a make-or-break market for this industrial giant since it accounts for only 2.9 percent of Siemens’ revenues. In short, Kaeser’s reprehensible embrace of an international outlaw who has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and routinely violates the civil liberties of his own people is not even compelled by the bottom line. It is completely craven toadying of the kind that Siemens may well regret some day–just as so many companies, including his own, came to regret the public-relations damage of having done business with Hitler or, in more recent times, with despots like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
Alas, the fact that Kaeser feels so free to almost literally embrace Putin shows how little will Europe has to confront the predator on its doorstep. Instead of reprimanding Kaeser, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as a former citizen of East Germany should be more sensitive to dealing with ex-KGB thugs, simply said: “Business contacts are still taking place and I am not interested in seeing the situation escalate, but rather among towards a de-escalation.”
With such cravenness being displayed by the most powerful state in Europe, Putin must be getting the message loud and clear that his aggression is essentially cost-free.