When global brands began to leave Russia after the start of a full-scale invasion, the French Auchan remained, saying: “It is not our choice to abandon our employees, their families, and our customers.” In the same press release issued on March 27, 2022, a few days after Zelensky asked French companies to leave the Russian market, Auchan claimed : “We bake fresh bread for Ukrainians and Russians every day in our stores, which is vital at the moment." Whether bread from Auchan is vital to the survival of Russians is debatable, but as we have been able to establish, by the time of this statement, Auchan had already provided support not only to its employees, but also to the Russian military.
On March 15, 2022, Natalya Zeltser, controller of the Auchan-St. Petersburg department, sent a letter to her colleagues with the following content:
"Good afternoon. Colleagues, I ask you to collect a cession for humanitarian aid (according to the list in the attachment) and send it to the Severny store tonight, give it to the OS when the pallets are collected.
Rules for palletizing (including for goods from logistics): make a poster on the pallet - HUMANITARIAN AID.
I ask logistics to organize the transfer of pallets to Severny from stores:
Summer, Dybenko, Parnassus, Borovaya, Eureka.
Transportation costs at the expense of the North.
Reception 044 - put all the pallets in one place, separate from the rest, in the morning I will come to receive commerce .
Attached to the letter was a list of things:
It is easy to see that all these goods are intended for men (say, the minimum size of socks in the list is 25th, which corresponds to the 40th shoe size), there are cigarettes (which are never supplied as humanitarian aid at all), lighters, razors, but there is nothing for women and children. The number of goods (1000 tubes of toothpaste, 500 lighters) indicates that there were many recipients, this would be enough for one or two battalions. The total cost of this March batch of "aid" was 2 million rubles.
Further in the correspondence (available to the editors) Zeltser writes to the central office and asks to issue "humanitarian aid" as a purchase from ten legal entities. From the Moscow office comes a response listing ten legal entities.
The Insider has invoices from these legal entities, so the payment was actually made to them. However, Auchan-St. Petersburg logistics manager Elmira Ivanova said that Auchan was actually giving these items free of charge from its stock. She, however, clarified that she did not know who the final recipient was - military or civilians.
True, Alexey R., the receiver of one of the St. Petersburg Ashanovs, with whom The Insider talked, claims that everything was clear to everyone: “I immediately said from the first email that I wouldn’t approach this at all, and when they shipped, I asked Zeltser, where is this "humanitarian aid", she said: "Think for yourself." I began to insist: “And where to?” - and she replied: “To a special military operation,” and then added: “Unfortunately.”
The Insider reached out to the executives of the 10 aid companies, and some of them were open about it. So, for example, the director of MTK LLC Sergey Poma and the director of Energia-3000 LLC Galina Baranova admitted that it was the Russian military who received the aid, but refused to give details. Some refused to answer at all, and some began to invent a “legend”, such as, for example, Tatyana Nekrasova, director of Venta LLC, who said that she bought T-shirts and socks for her warehouse employees. When The Insider asked why her warehouse staff needed 700 lighters, she replied that in March they feared Ukrainian sabotage and power outages. When asked how lighters would help her solve the problem of a power outage, Nekrasova replied: to heat the stove. When asked if Venta's warehouse is equipped with a wood-burning stove, she answered in the affirmative. After asking if 700 lighters were too much for a company with seven people, Nekrasova stopped answering.
The companies selected for the legalization of supplies to the military are interconnected: they all serve the St. Petersburg State Unitary Enterprise Passazhiravtotrans, which in turn belongs to the city's Transport Committee. Earlier, the deputy chairman of the Committee for Social Policy of the city, Alexander Lyubimov, boasted how, following the instructions of Governor Beglov, they “together with colleagues from the Committee on Transport” developed the logistics of deliveries of “humanitarian aid” for the Ministry of Defense. According to him, by October they had thus collected 280 tons from various organizations.
"Auchan" involved not only its St. Petersburg stores in deliveries for the occupying troops. This is evidenced by the fact that the deliveries were coordinated with the Moscow office, and the fact that in other regions the collection of aid was also seen on the territory of Auchan-owned shopping centers. So, for example, in Samara, Rybinsk and Vladimir, on the territory of Auchan stores, there were collection points for “humanitarian aid for the Donbass”.
Sergei Chubko, the head of the Close People NGO, which supplies aid to the military, even took a picture with Auchan employee Alexei Sokolov in Vladimir, signing this photo with the words: “Enlisted the support of partners.”
It should be noted that, according to international law, only assistance to the civilian population is considered humanitarian assistance during international conflicts. The support of one of the warring parties can bring Auchan under sanctions and lead to the company leaving the Russian market (which for Auchan, which has 230 stores in Russia, is 10% of turnover, that is, about €3.2 billion per year ).
Apparently, not only Auchan, but also Leroy Merlin, which belongs to the same holding, was also engaged in the supply of goods to the occupied territories. In any case, in a video from Mariupol published in December, you can see how members of the Young Guard of United Russia unload identical pallets with the brand name Leroy Merlin:
Curiously, Auchan supported the war not only with so-called humanitarian aid, but also by helping the authorities fight draft evaders. Auchan collected and transmitted data about its employees to the military registration and enlistment offices (moreover, data on military ID cards from employees began to be collected even before the start of a full-scale invasion, in January 2022) and then, after the announcement of mobilization, helped the military registration and enlistment offices to fulfill the norm: right at the workplace for employees handed subpoenas and offered to quit, the witness of one of such situations told The Insider about this.
The Russian leadership of "Auchan" refused to comment, and the press service of the French "Auchan" said that the company is out of politics and is not engaged in any support for the military.