Growing numbers of firms pull back from Russia

H&M store in Russia

H&M store in Russia

Thirty years ago when communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, Western firms jostled to be first through the door.

The arrival of brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s symbolised the start of a new era, closely followed by retailers, miners, lawyers and advisers. And Russians became eager consumers of Levi jeans and luxury goods.

Now, in the wake of President Putin’s military aggression in Ukraine, some firms, including Apple, Jaguar Land Rover, H&M and Burberry, have announced they are pausing activities in Russia.

So which firms, in which sectors, are exiting fastest and why have others remained silent?

Oil and gas

When the conflict in Ukraine broke out, energy firm BP came under immediate pressure. The company owns a large stake in Russian energy giant Rosneft, but within days it had announced the operation would be hived off.

That was closely followed by pledges from Shell, ExxonMobil and Equinor to cut their Russian investments following pressure from shareholders, as well as from governments and the public.

Those energy stakes are valuable. BP’s Rosneft stake accounted for a fifth of the firm’s most recent profits.

Shell could be sacrificing up to $3bn (£2.2bn) for exiting its ventures with Gazprom, although it has come under fire for buying Russian crude oil recently.

A view of the Rosneft oil rig drilling the first exploration well in the Khatanga Bay as part of the East Taimyr oilfield

A Rosneft oil rig drilling the first exploration well in the Khatanga Bay, Russia

Firms want to be seen to be doing the “right thing”, says Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

Meanwhile, Total Energies, another big player in Russia, has said it won’t fund new projects in the country, but unlike its peers does not plan to sell existing investments.

It is still far from clear what will happen to those investments – whether they can eventually be sold, recouping some of their value, or if they will simply be written off.

Entertainment

Film fans in Russia wanting to go and see Warner Bros’ new blockbuster The Batman won’t be able to after the company suspended new film releases in the country.

The US movie-maker was joined by Disney and Sony, with premieres of animation Turning Red and Marvel adaptation Morbius also being withdrawn.

Netflix, a fairly new entrant in Russia, has suspended its service in the country and put all “future projects” in on pause.

A scene from Disney and Pixar's Turning Red.

Pixar’s new animated film Turning Red won’t be released in Russia

All companies said their decisions were based on the “humanitarian crisis” in Ukraine, rather than as a result of sanctions that have been imposed.

But the decision will send a similar message. Being left out “in the cultural cold” will increase Russia’s sense of isolation, says Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Technology

Samsung, the leading supplier of smartphones in Russia, ahead of Xiaomi and Apple, will suspend shipments to the country but it is unclear whether Samsung’s shops will close.

Reports suggest that Ukraine’s vice-prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, who is responsible for digital operations, wrote to Samsung urging the company to temporarily cease supplying services and products to Russia.

Apple has also halted all of its product sales in Russia, and limited other services such as Apple Pay and Apple Maps. Its shops have closed as well.

Shuttered re:store chain in Moscow

All shops under the Re:store in Moscow have been shut as Apple halts all product sales in Russia

For a firm like Apple selling imported items, that’s a relatively straightforward decision to take, suggests Chris Weafer, chief executive of consulting firm Macro-advisory Limited. He has worked in Moscow for the past 24 years.

“Companies do not want to be associated with the Russian regime and what’s happening in Ukraine,” he says. Their Russian business may be profitable, but “the rest of the world is more important” when it comes to a reputational risk like this.

On top of that, some tech companies, flooded by misinformation, are restricting Kremlin-linked media outlets posting on their platforms.

Facebook, for example, was blocked in Russia after it said it had refused to stop fact-checking and labelling content from state-owned news organisations.

Retail

Inditex, the Spanish owners of eight brands including Zara, Bershka, Stradivarius and Oysho, is shutting all of its 502 stores in Russia. The store closures are expected to hit more than 9,000 of the group’s employees.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea is also halting its operations in Russia, affecting 17 stores, although its parent company is keeping its Mega shopping centres open.

Another Swedish giant, fashion giant H&M, has already suspended sales in Russia, and many more brands are likely to follow suit, according to Maureen Hinton of retail consultancy GlobalData. Boohoo already has, for example.

While H&M cited “tragic developments” in Ukraine, other brands like Nike have simply said they can’t currently guarantee delivery of goods to customers in Russia.

Burberry in Red Square

Burberry in Red Square

Russia was the fifth largest European retail market in 2021, valued at £337.2bn. Some brands may not want to burn their bridges, if there’s a chance of returning at some later date.

That is why many firms, including luxury retailers like Burberry and Chanel, simply say they are “suspending” sales and temporarily shutting stores rather than withdrawing altogether, says Chris Weafer.

And with sanctions limiting forms of payment, restrictions on taking foreign exchange out of the country and huge uncertainty over future prices and consumer appetite, the business climate is “extremely challenging” he adds, making the decision to hit pause easier.

Cars

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), General Motors, Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce are among the car-makers that have halted deliveries of vehicles to Russia due to the conflict, while construction equipment manufacturer JCB has paused all operations.

Jaguar Land Rover vehicles

Jaguar Land Rover said sales were paused due to “trading challenges”

Cars are the biggest UK export to Russia, but still only 1% of UK cars went to Russia last year.

So any decision to stop exporting won’t be particularly costly, and will have been made easier by nagging concerns over whether or not payments will arrive, says investment analyst, Russ Mould.

Transporting cars to Russia could prove difficult anyway, with the world’s two largest cargo shipping companies, MSC and Maersk, suspending routes to and from Russia, except for food, medical and humanitarian supply deliveries.

Some car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen and BMW have had to pause production at some European plants because of a lack of parts from Ukraine.

Finance

Payment giants Visa, Mastercard, American Express and PayPal are pulling out of the Russian market in protest at the invasion of Ukraine.

PayPal has shut down services in Russia but said it would support withdrawals “for a period of time”. This would ensure that account balances were dispersed “in line with applicable laws and regulations”, it said.

Russia’s major banks have, however, already downplayed the impact of the Visa and Mastercard pull-outs on their clients.

Sberbank, for example, said the cards would work “to withdraw cash, make transfers using the card number, and for offline payments, as well as at online Russian stores”.

They will continue to work on Russian territory, the bank said, because all payments in Russia are made through a national system.

However, Russian-issued Mastercard or Visa cards won’t work abroad, and foreign-issued cards won’t work inside the country.

Consultancy firms

Large consultancy and law firms were some of the first to set up a presence in Russia after the fall of communism, but mostly operate out of the spotlight.

On Sunday, two of the Big Four accounting firms KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) said they would no longer have a member firm in Russia because of the invasion.

EY said it would comply with sanctions, but has not confirmed whether or not it intends to sever ties with any clients.

Some legal and consulting firms also say they are reviewing their client base and Russian links.

A senior executive for consultancy firm McKinsey, for example, wrote in a social media post that the company would “no longer serve any government entity in Russia.” According to McKinsey’s website, it serves 21 of the 30 biggest Russian companies.

A spokesman said the firm would cease existing work with state-owned entities as well.

“After our remaining engagements in Russia conclude, all client service in the country will be suspended,” he said.

Tamzen Isacsson, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association, said its members were “strictly abiding by the updated changes to sanction rules”.

That would inevitably mean “ending some work and supporting clients in adapting to making rapid changes to their operations in light of the new rules”, she added.

Who remains?

While the flood of announcements from firms stepping back from Russia goes on, there are calls for more to join them.

But some will find it a lot harder to extricate themselves, even if pressure mounts in the coming days and weeks.

Marks & Spencer has 48 shops in Russia but they are operated by a Turkish franchise company called FiBA. M&S has said it is suspending shipments of its goods to FiBA’s Russian business, but the shops in the country remain open.

M&S

M&S

British American Tobacco has said it is suspending its operations in Ukraine to ensure the “safety and wellbeing” of its staff, but its work in Russia will continue.

It said it “always complies with relevant regulation and legislation wherever we operate, and we are aligned with all international sanctions”.

In retaliation against Western sanctions, the Russian government has also banned the sale of Russian assets. So firms that, in recent years, have been encouraged to establish a presence in Russia, to make breakfast cereals or detergents, are “locked in” with local businesses, staff and supply chains.

Mr Weafer believes it is likely that large consumer brands may express concerns over the military conflict, but try to “ride it out”.

“They’ll leave the door open for an improvement that will allow them to stay,” he predicts.

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