One of Belgium’s most iconic beer brands is facing calls for a boycott after bosses began production in breweries across Russia, months after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Leffe beer is now being produced in seven Russian breweries by AB InBev Efes, a joint venture between AB InBev and Turkish beer producer Anadolu Efes, according to a tweet earlier this month by the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Russia.
The announcement, coming long after many Western firms shuttered shops and factories in Russia under huge public pressure, has now sparked a backlash online and triggered calls for a boycott.
“Leffe beer’s case speaks volumes,” said Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson of the Ukrainian foreign ministry, said on Thursday. “There is a growing campaign for boycotting this product in Belgium, coming from its most loyal consumers.”
Katya Yushchenko, the wife of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, called out AB InBev, even accusing the company of “supporting genocide.”
“How Western Europeans like to lecture others about corruption when they themselves choose money over morals. Boycott #Leffe beer,” she tweeted.
The decision by the joint venture has left its parent company AB InBev scrambling to clean up a growing PR disaster. The brewing giant, which holds a 24 percent stake in Anadolu Efes, formed the AB InBev Efes 50-50 joint venture with the Turkish company in 2018. But Anadolu Efes is operationally in control of the day-to-day management.
Anadolu Efes did not respond to a request for comment, and efforts to reach the joint venture were unsuccessful.
Asked whether the company opposed the decision to brew Leffe in Russia, a spokesperson for AB InBev on Thursday said the brewer was actively seeking to sell its shares in the venture to its Turkish partner, and to suspend its license to sell certain brands.
The Leuven-based firm left the Russian market a few weeks after the start of the war in Ukraine. In April, the company said it would be selling its 50 percent share in the venture with Anadolu Efes, and expected to take a $1.1 billion hit as a result. But despite saying in April that it was in “active discussions” for Anadolu Efes to buy the stake, no sale has yet been announced.
Beers, like other food products, are not targeted by European sanctions against Russia, as long as they are not produced in collaboration with people or societies targeted by the sanctions.
In Belgium, the news prompted an outcry from local politicians who say that the brand is still owned by the brewing giant, and therefore remains a money-spinner.
“It raises an ethical and moral question,” said François Desquesnes, a Walloon lawmaker who sits on the agriculture committee and is a member of the opposition party Les Engagés.
Desquesnes warned of “repercussions on all the actors of the brewing economic chain in Belgium,” putting jobs at risk.
Allowing Belgian beers to be produced abroad is “a real threat,” Desquesnes added. “If we agree to do this for a product, we will allow relocation […] It’s deception, it’s swindling.”
AB InBev is not the only Western company struggling to sever Russian connections. French oil giant TotalEnergies is trying to distance itself from its Terneftegaz joint venture with Russian firm Novatek. Ride-hailing company Uber is still on the lookout for a buyer for its stake in a venture with Russian tech company Yandex.
Bartosz Brzezinski contributed reporting.
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