When McDonald’s first opened in Moscow’s Pushkin Square in 1990, it was a clear sign that western values (and capitalism) had well and truly infiltrated behind the Iron Curtain. Enormous crowds lined up for a taste of artery-clogging freedom, and they kept coming back. The chain has remained highly popular in Russia for more than three decades, even as the initial promise of democracy curdled into the authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin.
Now McDonald’s is pulling out of Russia altogether. The Wall Street Journal reports that the fast-food giant is putting its Russian business up for sale and turning tail as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine drags on (and Russia’s status as an economic pariah worsens). Whoever buys the restaurants will no longer be able to use the McDonald’s name or menu — though perhaps an enterprising Russian could rebrand some locations as McDowell’s.
In a statement, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said, “We have a commitment to our global community and must remain steadfast in our values. And our commitment to our values means that we can no longer keep the arches shining there.”
Like many western businesses in Russia, McDonald’s had already temporarily ceased operations shortly after the invasion of Ukraine — closing its 847 restaurants, which employed 62,000 people. Its decision to pull out entirely may be a harbinger for other western behemoths like Starbucks and Apple, which also paused operations — presumably in hopes that business could resume at some point.
The McDonald’s decision is not without significant cost. The company operated a majority of its restaurants in Russia — with only 16 percent run by franchisees. Before the war, Russian and Ukrainian locations accounted for 9 percent of the company’s revenue, per the Journal. (Ukraine’s roughly 100 locations are still shuttered.) The fact that McDonald’s would willingly choose to exit is a very bad sign for Russia’s economic standing — its invasion isn’t going very well either.
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