The Volkswagen chief executive has called for a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine so that sanctions can be lifted to avoid harming the German economy.
Herbert Diess said Brussels should push for a peace deal so free trade can resume to protect the European Union’s trade interests.
The comments drew an immediate hostile response from Ukraine’s leaders, who said Mr Diess should instead focus on persuading Vladimir Putin to end his unlawful invasion and attacks on civilians.
Speaking at an industry summit hosted by the Financial Times, Mr Diess said: ‘I think we should do everything we can to really stop this war and get back to negotiations and start trying to open again. the world again.
“I think we shouldn’t give up on open markets and free trade and I think we shouldn’t give up on negotiating and trying to settle.”
He added that if global trade continues to struggle, “Europe will suffer the most, and Germany, but I think it will be bad for the whole world.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said: “The best strategy for German big business would be to completely sever trade relations with Russia and then call on Russia to stop the war and return to diplomacy.”
Mr Diess’ statement comes a day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to continue supplying arms to Ukraine because Europe would not “capitulate to brute force”.
However, Brussels dropped a proposal to ban EU tankers carrying Russian oil following intensive lobbying by Greece, Malta and Cyprus.
The measure would have banned European tankers from transporting Russian crude anywhere in the world, potentially allowing non-EU countries to step in and take market share.
The plan was scrapped as G7 allies failed to agree to a similar ban in their plans to end Russian oil imports.
Industries backed sanctions on Russia, even as the war worsened existing supply chain disruptions globally.
Volkswagen, the world’s second-largest automaker, has cut production due to a shortage of Ukrainian-made wiring harnesses.
It also sold all electric models in the US and Europe this year.
Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Berlin, said: “People in Kyiv would prefer the CEO of VW to speak personally to President Putin, a man he knows well who started this war of destruction against the Ukrainian people”.
He added that Diess should “call on the Kremlin to immediately cease combat operations against the Ukrainian civilian population”.
Mr Diess has already caused controversy by telling VW employees in 2019 that “EBIT macht frei”, in what appeared to be a play on “Arbeit macht frei” – work sets you free – a notorious Nazi slogan inscribed on the entrance to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
He apologized following calls for the resignation.
EBIT is the acronym for Earnings Before Interest and Tax, a key indicator of a company’s profit.