PARIS (Reuters) – French companies including carmaker Renault and retailer Auchan must leave the Russian market, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told French lawmakers via video link to France’s National Assembly.
“Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin must stop being sponsors of the Russian war machine, stop financing the murder of children and women, of rape,” Zelenskiy said.
“French companies must leave the Russian market.”
Seated at a desk in his trademark khaki T-shirt, Zelenskiy received a standing ovation from French lawmakers after his appeal. At his request they also observed a minute of silence in tribute to the victims of the nearly month-long war.
Renault, which has not commented on its exposure to Russia since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, declined to comment on Zelenskiy’s appeal.
Sources told Reuters the company’s board was set to discuss the situation at a board meeting later on Wednesday.
Renault – which controls Avtovaz, Russia’s number one carmaker – is among Western firms most exposed to Russia, where it generates 8% of its core earnings, Citibank said.
Two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that about 10 days ago Renault board members considered different scenarios, but decided to maintain its presence in Russia for now, with the support of its main shareholder, the French state, and in line with international sanctions.
The sources said the company fears that exiting Russia would jeopardise the recovery of the firm, which returned to profit in 2021 after two years of losses. Avtovaz accounted for half of the current profit of its car division last year.
Renault said earlier on Wednesday it was considering again suspending production at its Moscow plant due to logistics issues.
Privately owned retailer Auchan declined to comment. Last week a spokesperson said earlier criticism by Zelenskiy over the group’s continued presence in Russia was “extremely surprising”.
Leroy Merlin, which belongs to the same Mulliez group as Auchan, also declined to comment. Mulliez also owns the Decathlon sports goods chain, which has a large presence in Russia.
French companies that have come under hefty criticism for still operating in Russia also include energy giant Total and food group Danone. Zelenskiy did not name them but asked French firms in general to leave Russia.
Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of wider conflict in Europe.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Makini Bricel, Jean-Stephane Brosse, Elizabeth Pineau, Gilles Guillaume; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Gareth Jones)
PHOTO: A suburban house burns after being hit by a shell on the outskirts of Kyiv Ukrainian administration via Reuters