US Government warns American firms they risk complicity in Kremlin’s war crimes
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On the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the US Government issued a business advisory on Russia. The B4Ukraine Coalition welcomes this important and long-delayed development, which we first proposed in November 2022 and have called for ever since. Now G7 and allied governments should swiftly follow suit and issue similar guidance to their own companies. In turn, foreign businesses in Russia should take immediate steps to exit the country: drop their keys and leave.

For the first time, the US advisory highlights the fact that “businesses and individuals operating in Russia and occupied territories of Ukraine are at risk of being implicated in Russia’s violations of international law and human rights abuses.” There are over 125,000 recorded war crimes in Ukraine committed by the Russian Armed Forces.

Other key risks mentioned in the business advisory include exposure to sanctions, export controls, import prohibitions, money laundering vulnerabilities and corruption as well as risks associated with proliferation and implementation of repressive laws, including expropriation and detention.

“This business advisory challenges the continued presence of American companies operating in Russia that undercuts the substantial US military, economic and diplomatic support extended to Ukraine throughout this war,” said Bennett Freeman, Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and co-founder of B4Ukraine.

There are still 330 US companies operating in Russia, while only 69 have so far exited through sale or liquidation. American firms, especially from the fast moving consumer goods sector (FMCGs), remain the most profitable in the Russian market, also contributing the most to the Kremlin’s war coffers. In 2022 alone, US businesses paid $751 million in profit tax to Russia’s increasingly militarized budget. What sets most FMCGs apart is their extensive claim to be providing “essential” goods to the Russian population as a reason to remain.

“B4Ukraine has engaged with over 180 companies to warn them of the huge risks of continued operations and urge them to drop their keys and leave. Many of these businesses justify their presence by claiming to provide ‘essential goods’ - and stretching this definition to include cookies and chocolates. This is clearly ridiculous, misleading their customers and insulting to Ukrainians who sacrifice their essential lives to defend freedom for all. It is disappointing to see that the US Government has failed to address this issue,” said Nataliia Popovych, a co-founder and steering committee member of B4Ukraine.

Despite its shortcomings, B4Ukraine welcomes the decision of the US Government to urge American companies to look beyond sanctions compliance in order to address significant material and human rights risks associated with continued business operations in Russia, including the risk of being implicated in its war crimes and crimes against humanity. After two years since its full-scale invasion and ten since the start of Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine, the time for American companies to drop their keys and leave Russia is now.

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