As hundreds of major U.S. companies exit Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Koch Industries is staying put.
The industrial conglomerate — the second-largest privately owned business in America, with $115 billion in annual revenue — is among those defying public pressure and continuing to operate manufacturing plants and sell products across Russia, while up until Wednesday remaining mum on that nation’s relentless assault on Ukrainian cities.
Wichita, Kansas-based Koch has several business lines in Russia, and is among the nearly 40 companies described as “digging in” by refusing to curb or stop business in that nation, according to a tally compiled by Yale University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and his research team.
Koch subsidiary Guardian Industries has two industrial glass manufacturing plants in Russia that employ about 600. Outside of Guardian, Koch employs 15 people in Russia, according to the company.
“While Guardian’s business in Russia is a very small part of Koch, we will not walk away from our employees there or hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government so it can operate and benefit from them,” Dave Robertson, president and COO of Koch Industries, said Wednesday in a statement posted by the company.
Calling Russia’s attack on Ukraine “an affront to humanity” that “violates our company’s values and principles,” Robertson also said the company has provided financial assistance to workers and their families from Ukraine and other aid to those affected in neighboring countries.
“To be clear, Koch companies are complying with all applicable sanctions, laws and regulations governing our relationships and transactions within all countries where we operate,” he added. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation and keep you updated as needed.”
The company’s stance on doing business in Russia drew criticism in some quarters. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, author of “Dark Money,” a book about the Koch’s political influence, said the company’s justification is hypocritical.
“Given how small Koch says its Russian operation is, hard not to see this as purely symbolic, sending the message that all of Koch’s talk of rights and liberty means nothing. Making money is what they value,” Mayer tweeted.
Arguing against sanctions
Political groups supported by Charles Koch, the right-wing billionaire who is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, oppose broad economic sanctions against Russia, according to Popular Information, a left-leaning newsletter run by Judd Legum.
Stand Together, a nonprofit founded by Charles Koch, instead “supports targeted sanctions against Russia in response to its immoral invasion of Ukraine. We also believe that sanctions are a legitimate tool of statecraft. However, broad-based economic sanctions rarely achieve their desired policy outcomes,” Dan Caldwell, the group’s vice president for foreign policy, tweeted on Monday.
Caldwell previously suggested that the U.S. remain neutral on the conflict in Ukraine.
A similar message comes from Will Ruger, president of another Charles Koch-backed group, the American Institute for Economic Research, or AIER, according to Popular Information’s reporting. “The United States can and should do very little for Ukraine,” Ruger said in a March 2 podcast with Reason Magazine, a libertarian publication also supported by Charles Koch. “Ukraine simply doesn’t matter to America’s security or our prosperity.”
Advancing that view, Ruger also shared on social media a Reason video entitled “Why Russian sanctions will fail.”
Another Charles Koch-backed group, Concerned Veterans for America, is also cautioning against sanctions against Russia. In a petition letter, the group urges “restraint as America responds to Russia’s immoral invasion of Ukraine. … We should avoid actions that may aggravate the situation further or have damaging repercussions to American prosperity.”