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Ukraine: Zelensky asks French companies to leave Russia

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Faced with French deputies and senators, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday urged French companies established in Russia to stop supporting the Russian “war machine” and to leave this country, citing Renault, Auchan and Leroy Merlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday urged French companies established in Russia to stop supporting the Russian “war machine” and to leave this country, citing Renault, Auchan and Leroy Merlin. “French companies must leave the Russian market. Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin and others, they must stop being sponsors of Russia’s war machine”, he declared in a speech broadcast by videoconference before French deputies and senators.

Companies ‘must stop funding the murder of children’

“(These companies) must stop financing the murder of children and women, the rape”, he hammered. “Everyone will remember that values ​​are worth more than profits,” he warned. The DIY brand Leroy Merlin, very established in Russia, its second market behind France, claims 36,000 employees in this country, who operate in 107 hypermarkets and 62 cities. Employees of the Ukrainian branch of Leroy Merlin asked the brand on Monday to cease its activities in Russia after the bombing of a store of the group in kyiv.

The Auchan chain of stores is also emblematic of mass distribution in Russia, where it operates 231 stores for a turnover of 3.2 billion euros, or more than 10% of its overall activity. Other iconic international brands such as Sweden’s Ikea and the fast-food chain McDonald’s, on the other hand, have suspended their operations in Russia in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia, the Renault group’s second largest market in the world

Russia is also the Renault automotive group’s second largest market in the world behind Europe. The French manufacturer is present through the AvtoVAZ group, which halted part of its production in mid-March due to a shortage of components linked to Western sanctions imposed on Russia. Renault is all the more exposed as it is associated in Russia with the Russian public conglomerate Rostec, directed by Sergei Tchémezov, an ally of Vladimir Putin.

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The French group TotalEnergies, also criticized for its maintenance in Russia, somewhat distanced itself on Tuesday from this strategic country by announcing that it would renounce all purchases of Russian oil or petroleum products, at the latest by the end of the year.

Companies remain silent

A few hours after the declarations of Volodymyr Zelensky, on the business side, there is radio silence, the unease is clearly palpable. The only one to have spoken for the time being is Leroy Merlin who maintains her presence in Russia and who does not hide the fact that she is making a difficult decision there. The brand invokes in particular its responsibility with regard to its 45,000 employees on site. “We have no reason to condemn our Russian teams for a war they did not choose,” he analyzes. In addition, the group that a closure of its stores in Russia would open the way to an expropriation, which would strengthen, he says, the financial means of the country of Vladimir Putin.

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And that is the challenge for French companies. This is also why most of them have remained silent since the beginning of the war. If they leave Russia, they must leave everything there: factories, offices, stocks. So much money invested that would go up in smoke and could well come back into the hands of the Russian state.

Vladimir Putin has clearly threatened to appoint administrators to restart production in the deserted companies.

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