French minister says business interests that aid Russia problematic after TotalEnergies stays put

PARIS, March 10 (Reuters) - European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said on Thursday that any French business interest that aids the Russian state was "problematic" and that the government was talking to all big corporations.

Beaune was responding to a question about whether the decision by oil and gas major TotalEnergies TTEF.PA to stay put for now in Russia was an issue for President Emmanuel Macron's government.

TotalEnergies has bucked the trend of leading western oil companies exiting Russia after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Billions of dollars of impending write-downs are piling up for the companies that have said they would exit their Russian assets: BP, Shell SHEL.L , Equinor EQNR.OL and Exxon Mobil XOM.N .

"Anything that helps the Russian state function is problematic," Beaune told France Inter radio. "We’re talking to all the large French companies present in Russia."

A TotalEnergies source told Reuters last week it would respect European sanctions whatever the consequences, but that for now there were none on the energy sector.

The EU announced additional sanctions against Russia on Wednesday but they do not target energy. Europe depends more heavily on Russian oil and gas than the United States, which has banned Russian oil imports.

Beaune declined to give details on the discussions the government was having with companies.

His comments came three days after TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne said the group was not under government pressure to exit Russia.

"I had discussions obviously with the highest authority in my country and there is no push from them for us to exit Russia," Pouyanne told the CERAWeek conference in Houston on Monday.

The French oil major holds a 19.4% stake in Novatek (NVTK.MM), Russia's largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), as well as a stake in the Novatek-led Arctic LNG project.
Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Richard Lough and Raissa Kasolowsky

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