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U.S. ambassador skips encounter with sanctioned Russian tycoon

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ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. pulled out of an event on Friday that would have required him to be in the same room as Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian metals tycoon subject to U.S. sanctions.

Huntsman said last week he planned to be at a panel discussion on U.S.-Russian business ties as part of the St Petersburg investment forum, a Kremlin-backed annual showcase for the Russian economy.

Vekselberg was on the panel of speakers at the session on Friday along with U.S. and Russian business executives, but the ambassador was not there.

Asked why he was absent, the U.S. embassy in Moscow referred questions to the State Department in Washington. It did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

One of the panellists, Russian foods tycoon David Yakobashvili, said of Huntsman: “Unfortunately he is not here, but I am sure he is here in spirit.”

The most senior U.S. executive at the event was Bertrand-Marc Allen, President of Boeing International. 

He arrived after the session started and went straight to his seat on the panel, four places away from Vekselberg, without shaking hands with fellow panellists.

Sergei Kislyak, the former U.S. ambassador to Washington, was in the second row of the audience.

He was ambassador at a time when, U.S. intelligence officials allege, Moscow was interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump win.

Russian denies any interference and the Trump White House denies collusion with Moscow.

(Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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