Ukraine’s Zelensky shames French companies still operating in Russia, calls on them to leave
Zelensky Addresses French Parliament (AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on French companies including carmaker Renault, supermarket group Auchan and DIY retailer Leroy Merlin to leave Russia, during an address to the French parliament on Wednesday.

“French companies must quit the Russian market,” Zelensky said during a 15-minute video address in his trademark green T-shirt. “Renault, Auchan, Leroy Merlin and others must stop sponsoring the Russian war machine.”

French lawmakers gave Ukraine and its ambassador to France three standing ovations before the address by Zelensky, who has spoken to parliaments across the Western world in previous weeks in a bid to garner support for his country.

Invoking a specifically French national trauma, as he has done in other nations’ parliaments, the Ukrainian leader said that images of devastated cities such as Mariupol “recall the ruins of Verdun as in the photos of World War I that everyone has seen.”

“The Russian army makes no distinction between targets. They destroy residential areas, hospitals, schools, universities.”

“They do not take into account the concepts of war crimes,” he added.

Unlike in other speeches to parliaments when Zelensky has appealed for weapons, his main target appeared to be French companies that continue to operate in Russia as well as people who “bury their heads in the sand and try to find money in Russia.”

Partly state-owned Renault suspended its production at its plants near Moscow last month after Russia’s invasion but has since reportedly resumed production.

Major French retailers such as Auchan, Leroy Merlin and sports group Decathlon have not followed a boycott of Russia by other top Western brands from McDonalds to Coca-Cola.

French energy giant TotalEnergies, formerly known as Total, has said it will continue to buy Russian gas but will stop purchasing Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of this year.

“I know how to replace this oil and diesel fuel,” CEO Patrick Pouyanne told RTL radio on Wednesday, but “with gas, I don’t know how to do it.”