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Zelensky Memo Reveals 'Your Business Smells Russian' Campaign

Zelensky Memo Reveals 'Your Business Smells Russian' Campaign

Sean Penn's co-director/producer shares the leader's call to action, as revealed on our pod
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Penn with Zelensky on Zelensky’s Instagram. (@zelensky_official)

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Though the world’s eyes are on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, few have spent time with the charismatic leader in recent weeks. Among the exceptions: Sean Penn and co-director/producer Aaron Kaufman, who were on the ground in Kyiv when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The pair had been filming a documentary for Vice centered on the comedian-voice actor-turned-politician. In the early days of the war, Zelensky shared with Kaufman one of Zelensky’s plans for resisting the Russian onslaught, which Kaufman then passed on to Ankler Editor at Large and Ankler Hot Seat podcast host Tatiana Siegel in the hopes it would be shared. The campaign, conceived by Zelensky and his leadership, is called “Your Business Smells Russian” and its objective is to limit the activities of international businesses in Russia and thus financially choke and pressure Russian leader Vladimir Putin.


On the podcast, Siegel talks about her text exchanges last week with Kaufman, who told her that “Zelensky was hoping to get [a series of talking points] out to the world.”

Here’s the memo Kaufman says Zelensky asked him to share. Kaufman delivered the memo through a series of texts:

The “Your Business Smells Russian” campaign

Insight: At a time when states are banding together and making significant efforts to create sanctions for Putin's Russia, most Western companies continue to do business in Russia, following business as usual policies. They continue to bring in significant revenues to the budget, perform an important public function of "universal approval" in society, while declaring the importance of values for modern life.

There is a policy of double standards, instead of support by actions, they close activities in Ukraine, (Coca Cola, Uber, McDonalds) motivated by military actions, they close in Ukraine, but not in Russia.


1) To show that this policy, just business, does not work in the modern business, in which values should be above all.

2) To show global consumers that money earned in Russia is “bloody and toxic money”.


To limit the activities of businesses in Russia, the outflow of finance/capital.


Your Business Smells Russian


1) Use well-known celebrities (e.g. Richard Branson) who could denounce double standards. Generate a large number (assault) of inquiries to companies in different countries about the ethics of doing business in Russia;

2) Consumer reactions/boycotts to goods/services in their countries.

3) Requesting ethic[al behavior] through national company forums.

Examples of the depth of the problem:

McDo - made $2.5 billion in Ru(ssia) last year;

Coke - made $2.6 billion in profits for the quarter

While it is unclear if Hollywood power brokers also received the memo, it appears that they got the message. A number of studios announced that they are “pausing” films scheduled for release in Russia including The Batman, Lost City and the Michael Bay action pic Ambulance. Similarly, Netflix put the kibosh on four series scheduled to shoot in Russia. 

“We're not talking China numbers, but you can have sizable box office performances in Russia,” Siegel noted during the podcast. “For example, Joker made $37.2 million in Russia, and something like The Batman, which has been paused, would likely be comparable.”

In this episode, Siegel talks with co-hosts Janice Min and Richard Rushfield about Hollywood’s big reaction to the ongoing crisis and contrasts that with its continued silence on Russia’s ally, China, in addition to other entertainment headlines of the day.

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