Economy

in Russia, new French companies decide to leave



As for many Russian business leaders, the military mobilization suddenly upset the priorities of this French entrepreneur in Moscow. A dozen of its employees are about to leave for the front after having received their military convocation. And at least one manager has disappeared, gone into hiding for fear of being recruited.

“The former, essential for our day-to-day activities, will be difficult to replace. As for the manager, I prefer not to know where he is from the moment he continues to work for us by remote video…”, says this businessman.

Pragmatic, he has been accustomed for seven months “to no longer do development but crisis management”. For him, as for the other French people who have decided to stay in Moscow, there is no doubt: we must “not to leave, not to cut ties, to prepare for the aftermath”.

TotalEnergies and Auchan do not intend to leave

Engie is however preparing to formalize his departure. The gas giant will close its representative office which, in the Russian capital, made it possible in particular to manage contracts with Gazprom and to maintain contacts with the authorities. Two missions more than ever called into question with the stoppage of gas supplies and the deadlock in political relations between the two countries. “Huge mess! It’s sad, but that’s the way it is “resigns himself one of the key architects of the energy rapprochement between the two countries.

Several big names among French investors have already left Russia in the spring. Societe Generale has sold its subsidiary Rosbank to the oligarch Vladimir Potanin. Renault ceded its assets to the Russian state. Safran had to stop all its activities because, from the start of the conflict, aeronautics was the target of Western sanctions against Moscow.

Since then, rumors regularly announce the departure of Auchan, another spearhead of the French presence in Russia. The Mulliez family, on the strength of rising results, has on the contrary confirmed the maintenance of its chain of food hypermarkets and that of the Leroy Merlin stores. Like all large retail chains, however, these are affected by military enlistment. About 2,300 Auchan employees, for example, can be mobilized.

TotalEnergies announced the beginning of a decline with, in its accounts, a provision of 3.5 billion dollars (as much in euros) mainly linked to the potential impact of international sanctions. In particular for Arctic LNG 2, the large liquefied natural gas plant launched in the Arctic with its Russian partner Novatek.

But, unlike its competitors Shell and BP, the group has decided to stay in Russia, which represents 24% of its proven reserves and 5% of its cash. In August, challenged by an article in the World accusing the group of being involved in the production of kerosene for the Russian army, it announced the sale of its 49% stake in a gas field.

Air Liquide, Saint-Gobain, Schneider Electric have not ceased their production but, like TotalEnergies, have stopped all new investment. They have, totally or partially, placed their subsidiary in managerial autonomy.

“One day, we will try to rebuild everything on the field of ruins of our relations”

The fate of French SMEs is more uncertain. Most prefer to remain silent, sailing on sight to maintain often crucial activities in their overall accounts. Others think about “all possible options”according to the expression of a French boss.

Like others, he is convinced of the usefulness of maintaining a link despite “all layers of difficulty” : the problems of supply and bank transfers due to Western sanctions but also to the decisions of suppliers to boycott Russia; additional delays due to the blockage of many transport routes; and now the departure of employees responding to military mobilization.

“One day, maybe, we will wake up and try to rebuild everything on the field of ruins of our relations…”, hopes one of those who, an ardent defender of French business in Russia but a firm critic of the policies of the Kremlin, live today more than ever torn apart.



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