The press release fell on 1er March : “TotalEnergies condemns Russia’s military aggression towards Ukraine…” But while BP, Shell, Equinor and even ExxonMobil have given up on their business in Russia, the French major is only committed to no longer providing capital. “to new projects in Russia”.
How long can Patrick Pouyanné hold this minimalist position? “He is playing for time and will only give up his Russian assets if the sanctions force him to do so”, comments a former member of the group. Which is not yet the case. Even if the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire has publicly questioned himself, he does not really put pressure on TotalEnergies. Our job is not to hinder French companies which, if they withdraw from Russia, will be replaced by Chinese, we explain in substance at Bercy.
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Pouyanné downplayed the issue, explaining that Russia is only “from 3% to 5%” of his income. In reality, for TotalEnergies, Russia is more than 29% of its total gas production, and the CEO has made this energy (classified green by Brussels) the heart of its transition strategy to renewables. TotalEnergies is the world’s second largest private producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). With its Russian ally Novatek (of which it owns 19.4%), Pouyanné operates the Yamal field in Siberia, whose gas goes mainly to Asia, and that of Artic 2, which will start producing in 2023.
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The French group stands out from its foreign competitors by explaining that they worked with the Russian state companies Gazprom or Rosneft, while its subsidiary Novatek is a private company. Problem: Gazprom Capital owns 9.99% and the two strong men of Novatek are oligarchs close to Putin. Its director (and 23% shareholder) Gennady Timchenko is on the sanctions list. Which is currently not the case for its founder and chairman Leonid Mikhelson (24% shareholder), Russia’s second fortune. Until when ?
Patrick Pouyanné is waiting for the pressure to become unbearable to let go of Russia. He did it in January for Burma, which is much less strategic. Aged 58, he has the typical posture of an X-Mines polytechnician who has been devoted body and soul for more than twenty years to the company he took over in 2015. The world’s sixth major is ultra-profitable, with a profit record of more than 14 billion euros in 2021.
Former petrochemicals, Pouyanné was slow to change its strategy to fight against global warming. Admittedly, it is now betting billions of euros on solar and wind power, to become one of the top five global producers of renewable electricity by 2030. But it is not slowing down on hydrocarbons. As long as the world demands oil and gas, it will supply it!
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As a result, TotalEnergies remains the preferred target of NGOs. On March 3, Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affaire à Tous sued the group for ” false advertising “ in his communication. Because its production plans do not respect according to them “the minimum requirements needed to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050”.
Annoyed by the “demonization” whose group is the object, Pouyanné multiplies the gestures to restore its image. Adoption of the new name TotalEnergies in May 2021 to “defossilize”; distribution of gas vouchers and discounts on refueling to its precarious customers to make people forget about its astronomical profits. And now supplying fuel to the Ukrainian authorities and aid to Ukrainian refugees to counterbalance its presence in Russia. But nothing that could hurt the business.
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Less round than his predecessor Christophe de Margerie, who disappeared in a plane crash in Moscow in 2014, the boss leads his troops with an iron fist, with an obsessive attention to detail, and does not suffer the contradiction…
Sanctions will accelerate Russia’s economic decline
When he unhitches, this great fan of rugby and comic books likes to embark on adventurous trips with gorillas, whales or among the most isolated native tribes of the globe.