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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy urges French firms to ‘stop sponsoring the Russian war machine’

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French companies including carmaker Renault and retailer Auchan must leave the Russian market, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told French lawmakers on Wednesday.

“Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin must stop being sponsors of the Russian war machine, stop financing the murder of children and women,” Zelenskyy said in an address via video link to France’s National Assembly.

“French companies must leave the Russian market.”

Seated at a desk in his trademark khaki T-shirt, Zelenskyy 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 Zelenskyy’s appeal.

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Sources told Reuters the company’s board was set to discuss the situation at a board meeting later on Wednesday.

Exposure

Renault - which controls Avtovaz, Russia’s number one carmaker - is among Western firms most exposed to Russia, where it generates 8 percent 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 jeopardize 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 Zelenskyy 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.

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