SocGen CEO Says Putin Is ‘More Rational Than People Say’

Frederic Oudea, chairman and chief executive officer of Societe Generale SA, defended Vladimir Putin’s handling of the crisis and said he doubts the Russian president will impede the French bank’s expansion there.

“Putin has been much more rational than people say sometimes,” Oudea said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Stephanie Ruhle today. “They have not crossed the red line as such,” he said. “There’s no benefit, no interest, for someone like Mr. Putin to change dramatically the rules for a bank like Societe Generale.”

Oudea, 50, cited the historic ties between Europe and Russia and the absence of clear gains to Russia as reasons why the bank won’t be targeted for policy changes. France’s second-largest lender is maintaining its commitment to Russia as tensions between the nation and the U.S. and Europe escalate.

Putin’s incursion into the Crimea region in March prompted sanctions that may widen and may lead to retaliatory steps by Russia, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said earlier this month. The country is being pulled into a new Cold War with the U.S. and its allies, Medvedev said.

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. executives said last week they plan to keep operating in Russia after the government backed away from punishing the payments firms in response to U.S. sanctions.

Societe Generale, which had widespread operations in Russia before World War I, re-entered the market after the Soviet Union collapsed. In 2008, Societe Generale bought a majority stake in Moscow-based OAO Rosbank to clinch a spot among the foreign banks with the largest presence in Russia.

The French bank bought out most of Rosbank’s remaining minority investors in April. Earlier this month, the Paris-based lender said it’s targeting consumer-banking revenue growth in Russia, its second-largest market by clients, of 7 percent annually over the next three years, outpacing 1 percent growth at home. The bank’s first-quarter profit fell 13 percent, hurt by a Russian writedown.

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