Tom Enders, Nick Burns and Vladimir Putin

Don’t expect to see Tom Enders locking arms with Russian President Vladimir Putin anytime soon. The Airbus Group CEO, in an April 30 speech to the Atlantic Council in Washington, made clear he disapproves of western companies looking the other way at Moscow’s illegal annexation of the Crimea region and meddling in eastern Ukraine.

Terming himself “at least a little bit old-fashioned,” Enders said the preservation of international law and peace and security “has to have priority over business and over corporate profits.” Such sentiments stood in stark contrast with those of a fellow German CEO, Siemens’ Joe Kaeser, who met with Putin in Moscow in late March and touted his company’s enduring relationship with Russia in a highly publicized photo op.

But Enders was also irritated by a remark made earlier at the same event by former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns – so much so that he altered his opening remarks to rebut them. Burns “says German businessmen are traveling to Moscow and embracing Putin,” noted Enders. “Well I’ve counted two or three of my colleagues who’ve done that, so there shouldn’t be the impression that troves of German businessmen are traveling to Moscow to save their business and embrace the Russian president… I just want to make that as a remark because I felt provoked.”

In an address heavily oriented to defense topics, Enders also spoke of widespread anger in Germany over revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency was listening in on phone calls made by Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I’m not sure you call it the NSA scandal over here, but it’s a very strong, very real problem in Europe,” he said. “But nevertheless, this is the time for more, not less, trans-Atlantic cooperation.”

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