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TotalEnergies boss says he won’t work with Putin again — but refuses to write off Russian assets

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The CEO of TotalEnergies on Saturday defended the company’s refusal to fully exit Russia, but said it would never do business with President Vladimir Putin again.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, Patrick Pouyanne, chairman and CEO of TotalEnergies, said he was not prepared to write off the company’s assets in Russia as it would effectively mean giving them to Putin “for free.”

“What do we do with the existing assets? … I am not ready to give them for zero to Russian people, to Russian oligarchs … because by the way, it would be contrary of the sanctions,” he said on a CNBC-moderated panel at the Doha Forum in Qatar.

“These assets are there, I will not give them for free to Mr. Putin. Because this is what it means, leaving today.”

The French company has faced criticism for its refusal to write off its oil and gas assets in Russia — for example its stakes in Russian gas producers Novatek and Yamal — like its rivals Shell and BP. Shell is reportedly facing a loss of $3 billion for its Russian assets while BP’s write-down could be in the region of $25 billion.

But Pouyanne argued that “written off” actually “means nothing,” and was little more than an accounting practice.

In response to the exit plans of rival energy firms, Pouyanne said: “They do what they want, I’m doing what [we] want,” but added that he did not know how they planned to exit the country without contravening sanctions. “I would like my colleagues to explain to me how they will do it.”

Instead of a full exit from Russia, TotalEnergies said this week that it would no longer provide capital for new projects in Russia and would not renew its Russian gasoil and crude supply contracts. “We are absolutely against and we firmly condemn the aggression of Russia against Ukraine,” Pouyanne said on the panel Saturday.

He added: “We will not work with President Putin — make a difference please between Russia and Putin.”

In a statement Tuesday, TotalEnergies said: “Abandoning these interests without consideration would enrich Russian investors, in contradiction with the sanctions’ purpose,” and added that sanctions and Russian laws mean the company was prevented from finding a non-Russian buyer for these assets.

‘We created a … monster’

Pouyanne said lessons should be learned from Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. The EU imported 45% of its gas from Russia last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

“It’s true that we created a situation where we are dependent on them,” he said, given Europe’s decision to opt for the low-cost Russian option. “It’s a lesson for all of us.”

Putin “did not force” Europe to buy Russia’s gas, he said. “We favored the lowest cost energy … Yes, we created a sort of monster, but on both sides, you know.”

He added that people now needed to consider how much they are willing to pay for the cost of energy security without Russia.

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