Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24 an estimated 450 Western companies have “left” the Russian market. However, many have only “suspended” their business, while others have “scaled down” their operations, and a significant share of big western businesses have refused to leave. US university Yale has put together a comprehensive list of well over 500 companies, split into five categories, detailing who is leaving, who is suspending and who is staying in Russia.
“Originally conceptualised as a simple "withdraw" vs. "remain" list, our new list of companies now consists of five categories:” Yale said in a note on its website.
1) WITHDRAWAL – clean break: companies completely halting Russian engagements/exiting Russia;
2) SUSPENSION – Keeping options open for return: companies temporarily curtailing operations while keeping return options open;
3) SCALING BACK – Reducing activities: companies scaling back some business operations while continuing others;
4) BUYING TIME – Holding off new investments/developments: companies postponing future planned investment/development/marketing while continuing substantive business;
5) DIGGING IN – Defying demands for exit: companies defying demands for exit/reduction of activities
“Yale’s list is being updated continuously by Yale staffer Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and his team of experts, research fellows and students at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, to reflect new announcements from companies in as close to real time as possible,” Yale said.
This is the fifth iteration of the list which was first published in the week of February 28, when the first several dozen companies announced their departure. Hundreds of companies have withdrawn in the weeks that have followed.
European companies are torn between staying thanks to very significant investments and revenues generated from their Russian operations, and the reputational damage caused by refusing to leave.
bne IntelliNews has been following the corporate story closely and reporting on the departure of the major banks and companies. While some Western companies pulled out immediately, many others have defied public opinion. Western retailers are especially reluctant to leave. Swiss-based Nestle initially refused to leave, but when a public awareness campaign was launched online, featuring Nestle chocolate bars soared in blood, the company announced that it was “suspending” its work in Russia.
French retailer Auchan has also defied public opinion and will remain in Russia. The company has invested heavily in building up an extensive network of supermarkets and hypermarkets that generate over $3.5bn in revenues a year. The French DIY store Leroy Merlin and German cash & carry chain Metro have also both decided to remain in Russia and earn $4bn and $3bn a year in revenues respectively.
Several banks with big exposure to Russia have also ignored the exodus. Goldman Sachs was the first of the western banks to leave, having left before in the last big crisis in 1998, only to return again in the booming noughties. Deutsche Bank has also left after initially hesitating. The German bank has deep ties in Russia and its former CEO, Josef Ackermann, was a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the bank pulled out a week ago as public opinion, especially in Germany, turned on Russia. The Italian bank UniCredit, one of the three biggest foreign banks in Russia by assets, is currently sitting on the fence saying a decision to leave Russia could not be taken “quickly or lightly.”
On the list of banks that have definitely decided to stay, unless public opprobrium becomes too great, is Credit Suisse that has $1bn of exposure to Russia. The bank’s CEO, Thomas Gottstein, said on March 16 that it had “not decided whether to withdraw from Russia” and revealed that 4% of its liabilities was from deposits it holds for Russian businessmen in Switzerland and other jurisdictions. Switzerland said this week it had frozen a total of $6.5bn of money belonging to Russian oligarchs as it matched the EU sanctions. The bank was accused earlier this month trying to shred the evidence of $1.7bn worth of loans Credit Suisse had made to oligarchs used to buy luxury yachts, among other things.
Austria’s Raiffeisen International Bank (RIB) is another western bank with deep roots in Russia. RIB was an early entrant into the Russian market in the 1990s and built up a considerable trade financing business, before moving into retail, where it was for many years the dominant player amongst the foreign banks operating in Russia. RIB pioneered quality retail bank services and has grown its exposure to Russia to $25bn today.
French bank Société Générale is another bank that specifically targeted Russia as a growth market and in the boom years intended to make Russia its biggest business outside France. The bank has been equally reluctant to leave following the invasion of Ukraine and has a $20bn exposure to Russia today, according to reports.
Politicians are also worried about the impact of the war in Ukraine spilling over to hurt thier economies. According to fresh Ifo estimates, business sentiment in Germany fell in March to its lowest level since January 2021. The business climate index fell from 98.5 to 90.8 following a collapse in business expectations amid the war in Ukraine and the associated surge in energy and several other commodity prices.