SOUTH PORTLAND — As Russian forces shell hospitals, apartment buildings and schools in Ukraine, one of Maine’s most successful companies is continuing its business relationships with Russian oil giant Lukoil.

Wex Inc., the South Portland-based fuel payment processing service, has continued its 22-year relationship with Lukoil North America. The Moscow-based company’s U.S. subsidiary is registered in Delaware and, thus, technically not subject to the sanctions the Biden administration imposed in response to Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Russia’s neighbor. The Russian assault has resulted in the deaths of some 4,000 civilians and forced an estimated 3.6 million Ukrainians to flee the country in the past month.

Hundreds of U.S. and global companies have pulled out of Russia or severed business ties to protest the invasion. Energy giants Exxon, BP, and Shell have broken out of multibillion dollar investments in Russian drilling sites. McDonalds, Nike and Adidas have shuttered their Russian stores. Apple and Microsoft have stopped selling or updating their software in Russia while Visa, Mastercard, Discover and Western Union have cut the country off from their services. Food and consumer goods behemoths Unilever and Nestle have stopped all trade, while artists from Green Day to the Metropolitan Opera have canceled concerts. Global banks, accounting firms, airlines and carmakers also have severed ties.

Wex spokesperson Jessica Roy wouldn’t directly answer questions about the company’s relationship with the North American subsidiary but the wording of her response indicated it had not broken its latest multiyear contract with the firm announced in late December 2020.

“Wex is contractually prohibited from discussing any details of our relationship with Lukoil North America, or many of our customers, without their express consent – any other questions about Lukoil North America should be sent directly to them,” Roy said via email.

“I want to confirm that Wex is complying with all sanctions, and that Wex fully supports the United States and our allies in their efforts to end the invasion of Ukraine,” she added. “Wex is not doing any business in Russia, and does not have any employees or office locations in Russia.”


A spokesman for Lukoil North America, Jake Naggy, declined to answer questions about the company’s relationship with Wex, forwarding instead a written statement distancing itself from the conflict and emphasizing its U.S. ties.

“Lukoil North America (LNA) expresses herewith its deepest concerns about the tragic events in Ukraine,” the March 3 statement reads. “Calling for the soonest termination of the armed conflict, we express our sincere empathy for all victims who are affected by this tragedy. We strongly support a lasting ceasefire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy.”

Lukoil North America is registered in Delaware, headquartered in Moorestown, New Jersey, and, according to industry sources, gets the oil for its filling stations from East Coast refineries that are not importing Russian oil, so doing business with it presumably doesn’t formally violate U.S. sanctions. In its statement, the company also said it “reinvests its profits into operating, maintaining, and investing in capital projects at its network of stations in the United States.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainian people and all those who are victims of this war,” the statement concluded, a bold statement for a subsidiary of a Russian company to make at a time when so much as calling the conflict a “war” can land Russians in jail under draconian censorship laws.


Sanctions expert Steven Tian, director of research for the Yale School of Management’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute, said his team was not impressed with Wex’s position, even if it technically conforms with U.S. sanctions.


“Any company that is continuing its business in Russia, or in this case with Russian entities, is directly aiding Putin in keeping power,” Tian said via email. “A company that is merely complying with U.S. sanctions while continuing to do business with Russian entities, through legal domiciling workarounds, is undermining the spirit if not the letter of such sanctions. We are trying to push companies to reach for that higher moral purpose and not just legal, technical compliance.”

Tian – whose organization closely tracks firms’ positions on sanctions – added that more than 450 companies had departed Russia, helping hobble Russia and the Putin regime “short of bombs and bullets.”

“Companies that continue to undermine the spirit if not letter of U.S. sanctions by doing business with Russian entities are actively harming the cause and undermining this powerful, unprecedented exodus,” Tian added.

By contrast, John Forrer, director of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility at the George Washington University School of Business, said Wex’s particular situation occupied a gray area. Since U.S. financial industry sanctions likely make it impossible for Lukoil North America to transfer funds to its Russian parent company, any revenues generated as a result of their partnership with Wex presumably aren’t helping Russia’s war effort in any way, he explained.

“For Wex, if you are of a practical mindset you could say that their continuing to operate has zero effect on what is going on between Russia and Ukraine so why would they take action,” Forrer said. “The more emotional way of looking at it is one that says we just want to do everything we can to show that we are not in sympathy with Russia.”

“But it’s difficult to turn to your shareholders and say, ‘We’re going to cut off some serious business relationships even though it won’t have any practical effect whatsoever,’” Forrer added.



Lukoil was created in 1993 via the privatization and merger of three state-owned petroleum industry firms with the government deputy minister responsible for overseeing the sector – Vagit Alekperov – emerging as the new company’s largest shareholder and CEO. While not seen as especially close to Putin, Alekperov is one of a handful of oligarchs who successfully negotiated the transition from the Boris Yeltsin era to the Putin era. Before the invasion Bloomberg reckoned he was worth nearly $20 billion, making him Russia’s fifth wealthiest person.

The Moscow-based company entered the U.S. market with its 2000 acquisition of Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. and its 1,300 gas stations on the East Coast. It created Lukoil North America to manage the stations, which were eventually rebranded with Lukoil signs, including nineteen in Maine.

The takeover – the first purchase of a U.S. public company by a Russian one – had symbolic importance for Putin, who attended the 2003 ribbon cutting ceremony at a newly rebranded gas station in Manhattan and stood half-smiling for photos between Alekperov and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

Wex had been managing Getty’s branded fuel card systems and continued and regularly renewed this partnership with Lukoil. According to a March 23 presentation to its investors, Wex earns between $3 and $20 per month per fuel card via service revenue, late fees and finance charges. Its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission describe the virtues of its “closed loop” fuel card system, where both the fuel providers and the fuel retail customers – primarily companies with large vehicle fleets – are their clients.

“Our companies have a deep mutual respect for each other,” Jay Collins, Wex’s senior vice president and general manager for small business said in a Dec. 21, 2020, news release announcing the renewal of their latest multiyear contract. “As Lukoil grows, we’re committed to growing our partnership, as well.”


Lukoil North America originally had big plans to expand in the U.S., including the building of refineries to import Russian oil directly to the East Coast, but those ultimately didn’t come to pass. Today all of the 200 filling stations that remain in its network are independently owned franchises. None remain in Maine.


Since Russia’s invasion, Pennsylvanians have boycotted Lukoil-branded filling stations – much to the chagrin of their American franchisees – and the City Council in Newark, New Jersey, voted unanimously to revoke their license to operate entirely. The #BoycottLukoil hashtag has surged on social media in those states.

At least two members of Lukoil’s board of directors – former National Security Council official Toby Gati and former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel – have resigned because of Putin’s invasion.

Another Maine company, Westbrook-based veterinary medicine and medical equipment giant Idexx Laboratories, has declined to say if it is severing ties with Russia, but says it is complying with sanctions. An interview request to the company went unanswered.

Forrer at George Washington University said Idexx’s ethical position was strengthened by its particular product lines which, like medicines and medical supplies for humans, can be regarded as humanitarian necessities. “I think that’s how most people who have pets would see it,” Forrer said. “It’s not like some funny little sidebar: pets can be essential and most people like their pets more then they like people, so I think that’s a case where you can say ‘we would do more harm than good by pulling out.”

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