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Zelensky urges French companies to “stop sponsoring the Russian war machine”

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PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky told French lawmakers on Wednesday that Ukrainian companies, including carmaker Renault and retailer Auchan, must leave the Russian market.

“Renault, Auchan and Leroy Merlin must stop being sponsors of the Russian war machine, stop financing the murder of children and women, rape,” Zelensky said in a videoconference speech to the French National Assembly.

“French companies must leave the Russian market.”

Sitting at a desk in his trademark khaki T-shirt, Zelensky 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 almost month-long war.

Renault, which has not commented on its exposure to Russia since the start of the Ukraine invasion, declined to comment on Zelensky’s appeal.

Company sources told Reuters the board of directors would discuss the situation at a board meeting later on Wednesday.

EXPOSITION

Renault – which controls Avtovaz, Russia’s No. 1 automaker – is among the Western companies most exposed to Russia, where it generates 8% of its top profits, Citibank said.

Two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that about 10 days ago Renault’s board members considered different scenarios, but decided to keep their 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 exiting Russia would jeopardize the recovery of the firm, which returned to profit in 2021 after two years of losses. Avtovaz last year accounted for half of its car division’s current profit.

Renault said earlier on Wednesday that it was considering suspending new production at its Moscow plant due to logistics problems.

The private company Auchan declined to comment. Last week, a spokesman said Zelensky’s earlier criticism of the group’s continued presence in Russia was “extremely surprising.”

Leroy Merlin, who belongs to the same Mulliez group as Auchan, also declined to comment. Mulliez also includes ownership of the Decathlon sporting goods chain, which has a large presence in Russia.

Other French companies that have been heavily criticized for continuing to operate in Russia include energy giant Total and food group Danone. Zelensky did not name them, but called on French companies in general to leave Russia.

Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies call it an unfounded pretext for a war of choice that has raised fears of a broader conflict in Europe.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Makini Bricel, Jean-Stephane Brosse, Elizabeth Pineau, and Gilles Guillaume; writing by Ingrid Melander and Geert de Clercq; editing in Spanish by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)

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