President Volodymyr Zelensky is a skilled communicator. His speech to members of Congress this morning was impressive. Zelensky used emotional references like 9/11/01 and Pearl Harbor to make the point of a country under an unprovoked attack. He touched on American businesses operating in Russia and issued a plea for them to stop. Zelensky asked that American businesses stop providing financial support for Putin’s war against Ukraine.
We’ve seen a growing list of hundreds of businesses that have made the decision to either pause operations or end their business relationships in Russia since Putin’s invasion began. Sanctions issued by the Biden administration are one thing and businesses can help to starve Putin of financial resources to wage his wage in Ukraine. A week ago, I wrote about several hundred companies that were placed on an on-going list that is being generated by Yale University Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. Sonnenfeld’s intention is to encourage those of the opinion that shutting down American businesses in Russia hurts the general population, not so much Putin himself to re-think their position. Sonnenfeld says that as Russia’s economy collapses, the length of the war shortens. Sonnefeld says it will help prevent escalation of the war and save Russian lives as well as Ukrainians. I don’t know that I agree with his premise but his list is useful for reference.
Zelensky’s plea for businesses to leave Russia was timely in light of headlines being made by Papa John’s Pizza still being sold in Russia. Papa John’s says the decision isn’t such an easy one. There are franchise issues. Many fast food giants have announced a pause to doing business in Russia. They are closing up their restaurants. In the case of McDonald’s, for example, it is closing nearly 850 restaurants and taking the financial hit. Most of those restaurants are corporate owned, though, so it is logistically easier to close them. The majority of Papa John’s stores are franchises.
Some fast food outlets, like Starbucks, are owned by a “master franchisee”. They operate all the Russian stores and contracts with local franchisees. Papa John’s supports Ukraine, as the company has said, The master franchisee of Papa John’s restaurants in Russia is keeping them open. Christopher Wynne is a Colorado native and he lives part-time in Moscow. He wants to protect his employees and his customers.
Last week, Papa John’s announced it would suspend its corporate operations within Russia, according to Fox Business, writing “Papa John’s stands with much of the globe in condemning aggression and violence. We hope for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which today is hurting millions of innocent people.” The brand is no longer providing business or marketing support to the Russian locations; Papa John’s also announced a partnership with World Central Kitchen to provide food and supplies for refugees fleeing the conflict.
However, Papa John’s corporate does not own any of the brand’s 190-plus Russian stores directly, instead they are operated by master franchisee Christopher Wynne, a Colorado native who lives part-time in Moscow (via New York Times).
According to the New York Times, Wynne, 45, said of his refusal to shut down operations, “The best thing I can do as an individual is show compassion for the people, my employees, franchisees, and customers without judging them because of the politicians in power.”
While Wynne frames the decision as protecting his Russian employees and customers — of who he says “at the end of the day … appreciate a good pizza” — it is worth noting that he naturally has a significant financial interest in remaining open. As the New York Times reports, Wynne’s business, PJ Western, made $59 million in 2020. He hopes to expand further this year, opening 20 to 40 new Papa John’s locations, though the businessman acknowledged the current situation may derail those plans.
Zelensky urged Biden and Congress to escalate financial pain toward Russia in his speech today and called for American businesses to leave. “All American companies must leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood.”
“We propose that the United States sanction all politicians in the Russian Federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, via a translator.
Biden is scheduled to speak today on further actions like sanctions. Will he rise to the moment as Zelensky has already done? Zelensky hopes so. “President Biden, I wish you to be the leader of the free world. Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.”