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Let's Not Be Naive: A French Take On War Profiteering

French firms TotalEnergies and Renault announced they were, over time, suspending their activities and halting production in Russia after being widely criticized for their inaction since the invasion of Ukraine. But leaving Russia doesn’t have the same cost or the same consequences for all companies. And we should calculate in who will profit later.

Photo of a shadowy silhouette outside  a ​currency exchange office in Moscow on March 2.

At a currency exchange office in Moscow on March 2.

David Barroux


PARIS — Companies that decide to cut ties with Russia are not all in the same boat. Some like Apple — which can no longer deliver iPhones to the country isolated from the rest of the planet — only take minimal risks. They forego limited and temporary revenues, hoping that the day will come when the war stops and Russia finds some semblance of normalcy, and their business can resume.

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It is not so simple for several of the largest French companies, which were among the very first foreign investors in post-Soviet Russia and control numerous assets in the country. These multinationals that have invested billions (from retail group Auchan to energy giant TotalEnergies, automaker Renault and Société Générale bank) have much more to lose by breaking with Vladimir Putin.

In the short term, they deprive themselves of a profitable market, and of growth potential in the medium term. If Russia ends up regaining a positive reputation, those who have made the decision to leave will never be able to completely come back. Sanctions are not permanent. Departures are.

Photo of people walking by an Auchan supermarket in Moscow\u200b

An Auchan supermarket in Moscow

A. Savin

Short-term actions, long-term uncertainty

In the current context, these decisions, even if they may seem hasty to some, are understandable. Public opinion can be a bit too ready to call any company still active in Russia an immoral “war profiteer” when these companies sometimes play a crucial role for us (like TotalEnergies), for millions of Russian citizens (like Auchan or Danone) or for thousands of employees (like Renault). But beyond this backlash, staying active in a country that will be completely isolated is not easy.

Who will the benefits go to then?

Supply chains have been disrupted, local revenues are threatened and the Russian adventure could cause cash losses likely to weaken groups globally. When facing uncertainty, it may be appropriate to take drastic actions on the spot, especially since even in the event of peace, Russia has become such an unpredictable partner that it will be difficult to continue to invest there.

Still, let's not be naive. There’s no doubt that the assets that our companies are forced to give up or sell will be seized by the Russian state — or sold off to the oligarchs! And tomorrow, when time has allowed wounds to heal, will Europe continue to impose sanctions on Moscow or will it open its doors wide again to Russian products? If that happens, will the benefits go to those who developed them, or someone else? The real war profiteers may not be who we think they are.

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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