French companies hesitate amid mounting pressure to leave Russia

PARIS (AP) – French automaker Renault halted production at its Moscow plant in an apparent move to stave off mounting criticism, breaking ranks with other major French companies that have defied pressure to continue operations in Russia Is.

The company’s board of directors on Wednesday night voted to suspend “activities at the Renault Moscow plant”. It came hours after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the company and others in France of aiding Russia’s war effort during an emotional virtual address to parliament.

Dozens of foreign multinational corporations have closed their operations in Russia amid sanctions imposed by the US and its Western allies aimed at crippling the country’s economy.

But some French companies have been notable for their reluctance to leave, underlining that it is often a matter of pride for France – and its companies – more than the US and the United Kingdom when it comes to policy towards Russia. to be independent It is a stance that has begun to unravel as the war intensifies.

Home improvement giant Leroy Merlin, supermarket chain Auchan and sporting goods retailer Decathlon are among high-profile brands refusing to close their business in Russia. French energy company TotalEnergies issued a belligerent statement this week, saying it would stop buying Russian oil, but warned that a hasty withdrawal would only make Russian partners rich.

It’s not just French companies feeling the heat. Swiss multinational food company Nestle sought to defuse sharp criticism with an announcement on Wednesday that it would remove certain brands from Russia, including KitKat candy bars and Nesquick milkshake powder, but would continue to supply “essential food”.

In his address to the Parliament of France, Zelensky examined the names of some French companies as he urged them to stop indirectly supporting the war against Ukraine with its presence in Russia.

“Renault, Auchan (and) Leroy Merlin must stop sponsoring the Russian war machine, and the murders, rapes, robberies and plundering committed by the Russian military of children and women,” Zelensky said. “All companies should remember that value is more than profit.”

Renault, partly owned by the French government, temporarily suspended production at its Moscow plant when the war broke out, before resuming production days before Zelensky’s French address. The military was blaming the problems. The factory makes Renault’s Arkana, Kaptur, and Duster SUVs and Terrano models for its Japanese partner Nissan.

The carmaker’s failure to drop its subsidiary AvtoVAZ – which represents the lion’s share of the group’s presence in Russia – means it will continue to face pressure. Last year alone, Renault sold about half a million vehicles through its Russian subsidiary.

Renault said it was not withdrawing immediately, but was only “assessing available options, taking into account the current environment, while acting responsibly towards its 45,000 employees in Russia.”

Leroy Merlin has been more adamant than Renault and – like Auchan and Decathlon – refuses to shut down his Russian business. In a press statement, Leroy Merlin’s management reaffirmed its desire to keep its Russian stores open in a decision supported by the French regional political leadership.

Even the destruction of the Leroy Merlin store in Kyiv by Russian bombing on Sunday night was not enough to make parent company ADO reconsider its position. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry also accused the chain of funding the attack indirectly by operating in Russia.

“The maintenance of our activity in Russia is a decision that is not easy,” it said. “We have no reason to condemn our Russian teams for the war they didn’t choose,” adding that it still has “responsibility as an employer.”

TotalEnergies made a brief statement Tuesday, following what it called “serious and baseless allegations of complicity in war crimes” leveled against TotalEnergies. The energy giant defended its decision to remain in Russia, saying that Abandoning their Russian interests will enrich Russian investors and do not have as many resources as other countries such as the UK and US.

On Thursday, hackers using the anonymous name claimed to have taken down the websites of Auchan, Leroy Merlin and Decathlon in Russia. All appeared to be non-functional for at least part of the day.

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