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Ukraine war: How French companies with Russian links may be affected

Auchan, Renault, Engie, Airbus, TotalEnergies: several French giants also operate in Russia

A view of the  Rosbank bank office in Smolenskaya square, Moscow

A number of giant French companies, including Rosbank (Société Générale), operate or have links to Russia Pic: smith371 / Shutterstock

French companies may be at risk of suffering collateral damage in Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, as a significant number export to Russia, have factories or other links there, or employ staff in the country.

Many could suffer complications or losses due to increased tensions between Russia, Europe and the US.

France’s Finance Ministry has launched a website informing companies of the risks, including that of cyberattacks, but also to share details on supply chain issues and the rising cost of energy.

It comes as French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire today (March 1) told FranceInfo: “We will cause the collapse of the Russian economy. We will go to the end. We want to target Vladimir Putin, but the Russian people will also suffer. There is no other way to do it.”

Read more: Macron-Putin talks, SNCF free trains: Four Ukraine-France updates

Already, the situation means that products made in France are nearly impossible to export to Russia, with constraints on international payments and the SWIFT banking system block preventing movement.

Russian companies with the most local operations (using Russian suppliers and customers) are likely to see the least disruption. 

Despite calls from Kyiv, no French companies have yet ordered their foreign workers to leave Russia, and have not yet come out in outright support of Ukraine; perhaps in a bid to encourage business to continue as normally as possible.

Here is the current situation for some of the leading French, or French-linked, companies affected.

Auchan

French multinational retailer Auchan has had to close many of its 42 shops in Ukraine, but has so far kept all of its outlets in Russia open. Russia is the company’s third-biggest market, with 240 shops and a turnover of €3.2billion.

Using mainly Russian suppliers, it says it has not had supply problems “for now”, and, as it does not use the SWIFT system in its banking operations, should not be affected by current sanctions.

Renault

The Renault factory in Moscow is currently at a standstill, as the supply chain of major components is disrupted, especially for the Captur, Duster, Arkana and Nissan Terrano models. The Moscow plant produces 95,000 cars per year, with all almost entirely destined for the Russian market. 

Renault is also the majority owner (68%), along with Rostec (32%), of the Russian company Avtovaz, which manufactures the Lada. Avtovaz is much bigger than Renault Russia. 

It employs 40,000 people across two factories, at Togliatti and Ijevsk, and produced 411,000 vehicles last year. 

And while the factories are “supplied locally”, the Togliatti plant has already been closed due to a lack of parts, Renault said.

It is not yet clear how large the impact of the crisis will be, and if knock-on effects will be felt by employees and suppliers.

Rosbank (Société Générale)

With 12,000 employees and 2 million customers, Société Générale’s ‘Russian unit’ Rosbank is the country's ninth-largest bank. It focuses on retail banking and activities for Russian and, to a lesser extent, international companies. 

Since sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014, Société Générale has changed Rosbank's access to funds: It is now autonomous and financed locally. 

Yet, it is unlikely that Rosbank will escape SWIFT sanctions, and has already suffered due to sanctions imposed by the US and Europe against the Russian Central Bank. 

On Monday, before the SWIFT changes were announced, the company said: "In an increasingly complicated environment, Rosbank continues to operate in a secure manner while adapting its operating methods, when necessary, and providing the best service to its customers.”

Jérôme Legras, co-founder of Axiom AI, told Le Figaro: "The real risk today for European banks established in Russia is that they will be nationalised by the Russian state.”

Airbus

Apart from weapons, all Airbus activities (aircraft, helicopters and space) have bases in Russia. 

Like the entire aerospace industry in Europe, the aircraft manufacturer depends on Russia for 50% of its direct titanium supplies. In 2017, it signed contracts with the Russian company VSMPO-Avisma, the world leader in titanium, and these are still in operation at the time of writing.

Yet, Airbus has been working to further diversify its sources of supply for this metal, which is crucial to the manufacture of parts. 

The group is also set to deliver 14 A350s to the Russian flagship airline Aeroflot, and has formed industrial and engineering partnerships with the Russian subcontractors Systema Invest and Kaskol, which supply parts for the 320neo, A330neo and A350 programmes. 

However, Airbus will not be penalised by the European Union's ban on trade in aeronautical parts and equipment, as it has set up systems so as not to be completely dependent on a single equipment supplier or country.

Safran and Thales

Engine manufacturer Safran employs 600 people in joint ventures across four sites in Russia, which accounts for half of its titanium supplies. 

The group has said that its current stocks will last "until next autumn". 

It does most of its business in Russia, to the tune of €300million per year (although this only accounts for 2% of its sales), as part of the regional Superjet 100 programme. It produces 20-25 aircraft a year, and supplies the engines, landing gear and propellers.

It has also formed a joint venture with VolgAero, which supplies parts for engines, including those used for the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX in France. 

Safran is also strengthening its sourcing to avoid being penalised by the ban on importing parts from Russia.

However, Sukhoi will likely suffer from European restrictions, as it will no longer be possible to deliver the Superjet. 

Thales is also a partner in this programme, supplying the cockpit. It also supplies telecom operators and banks with bank and SIM cards, but its Russian business represents less than 1% of its sales.

Alstom

French multinational rail stock manufacturer Alstom is a major shareholder in Russia's leading rail equipment manufacturer, Transmashholding (TMH) with a 20% stake since 2008. 

So far, the group "has not taken any decision to maintain or exit TMH”, but this may yet change, especially as TMH made a loss to Alstom of €2million in the first half of the current financial year.

Previously expected calls for tenders for a 1,210-passenger car project from the Russian train company have so far come to nothing, as the call was never launched.

TotalEnergies

Russia is an important strategic country for TotalEnergies, and operations are so far continuing. 

There has been no official decision on the company’s future actions so far, although pressure is mounting. 

Today (March 1), French Finance Minister Mr Le Maire said that "decisions" would be taken "in the coming days". 

A full 30% of the French group's total gas production comes from Russia, and in 2020, 16.7% of its hydrocarbon production (oil and gas) was extracted from Russian soil. 

According to the group’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanné, the group “carries out 3 to 5% of its activity” in Russia, representing 6billion-10 billion USD (€5.4billion-€8.9billion) in turnover.

TotalEnergies is also a 19.4% shareholder in Russia's Novatek, the country's second-largest gas company. It also has a 20% stake in a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) field in Yamal, and a 10% stake in the LNG 2 project in the Russian Arctic. 

Novatek is the major shareholder in both projects. Novatek is 100% private, and the Russian government has no ownership. 

However, Bruno Le Maire said that there is a "problem working with any political or economic figure close to the Russian government". The directors are already under pressure from France and the UK to act.

Engie

The electricity group imports significant amounts of gas from Russia, via its subsidiary GRDF. In 2018, 21% of French gas came from Russia, behind Norway (43%) and ahead of the Netherlands (11%). As long as payments can continue, the consequences to Engie may remain limited.

However, Engie is also connected, to the tune of €1billion, to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which passes through the Baltic and avoids Ukraine. 

Work on the pipeline was completed in November, but German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the certification process after Russian troops entered Ukraine.

With the project having become extremely political, its future is currently unclear. 

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Inflation in France and Russian aggression call for financial rethink

Angry, helpless: Ukraine supporters protest war in small French town

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