ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. stayed away from 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 had initially been scheduled to be part of 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 ambassador said last week he would not be participating in any panel discussions at the St Petersburg forum.
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.
(This version of the story corrects the second paragraph to remove erroneous reference to ambassador saying last week he would be at the event, edits first paragraph to remove reference to ambassador pulling out of event on Friday)
Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn