Miners portrayed as Akhmetov’s pawns
In the past days a campaign has been underway in Ukraine to discredit the ongoing coal miners’ protests in Kyiv. It has now found its way onto the pages of the international press, including the Financial Times April 27 issue (“President tackles oligarchs’ stranglehold on the economy” by Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv). The campaign, initiated by people close to President Poroshenko, claims that the miners’ protests are merely part of an elaborate plan by Rinat Akhmetov to preserve the monopoly position of his corporation DTEK in the Ukrainian coal mining and electricity generating sector. In other words, the miners are Akhmetov’s “rent-a-mob” and their own demands count for nothing.
This attempt to reduce the miners to the status of pawns in the hands of Ukraine’s richest man can be traced to a blog posted on April 24 by Mustafa Nayem, People’s Deputy to the Verkhovna Rada from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, tv personality and a prominent journalist during the Maidan. http://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/nayem/55397eabd8918/ Nayem asserts that after the recent downfall of Ihor Kolomoisky, Akhmetov rode into town to defend his own business interests; and instead of armed guards, he has brought the miners with him. Akhmetov is portrayed as intent on in blocking reform of the energy sector so as to maintain his monopoly position. Thus, the current miners’ protests and their third congress in Kyiv, their “attacks” on the president and their demands for the resignation of coal and energy minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn – all of this, says Nayem, is meant to destabilise and deflect the government from its reformist course.
DTEK general director Maksym Tymchenko and his senior colleagues, it is claimed, have prepared a long term strategy for the company’s survival, which calls for whipping up fear among miners about the imminent bankruptcy of their industry and the wholesale loss of jobs; fomenting a “revolt” by the miners and workers at thermal and nuclear power stations; mounting an attack on the “professional incompetence” of the Minister of Mines and Energy Demchyshyn; pointing out a line of corruption running from Demchyshyn to Poroshenko; and attacking the government for continuing to import Russian coal while asking for the assistance of western governments to stand up to Russian aggression.
Mustafa Nayem offers us in his blog a scanned copy of the alleged DTEK strategy document, entitled Krepost’ – Fortress, with the sections alleging the involvement of miners in the company’s survival plan highlighted in red. No-one has independently verified the authenticity of this document, as far as I know.
Nayem further reveals that he has himself turned to the Procurator General, the Interior Ministry and the Security Services to investigate the claim that DTEK has been involved in whipping up workers’ protests against the government and interfering in government business in order to protect its business interests.
Nayem says that DTEK holds a monopoly position on the market for coal used to generate electricity, supplying 67% of the coal burned at thermal power stations. However, Akhmetov’s appointees to the government’s anti-monopoly and energy regulation commissions have consistently understated DTEK’s real position in the thermal coal and electricity generation sectors, thereby allowing it to evade government attempts to break up the monopoly.
In 2014 DTEK charged 1,100 UAH per tonne for its coal; this year DTEK has raised its price to 1,500 UAH. Insofar as the coal miners employed by DTEK have not enjoyed a penny increase in their rates of pay, the increased cost can only be attributed to the fact that DTEK has outstanding loans of $3bn. With the collapse in the exchange rate between the Ukrainian currency in which DTEK collects its profits from coal and electricity and the US currency in which it must repay these loans Akhmetov is shifting the burden of his company’s indebtedness onto the Ukrainian taxpayer by raising the domestic price of coal. Thus, argues Nayem, Akhmetov is fighting off both a default to his international creditors and a break-up of his monopoly position by the government by bringing the miners out onto Kyiv’s streets to destabilise the government.
Miners unite in Kyiv
The coal miners have been mounting local strikes and protests for five months. Their most recent protests in Kyiv and their congress saw members of both miners’ unions – the Independent Union of Miners and the Union of Mine Workers – close ranks for the first time in many years. This important development seems to have alarmed the government sufficiently to seek to discredit them.
The miners’ congress on 21-22 April was called to address the crisis in the mining industry. The organisers invited the President and the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada to address them and to respond to the miners’ own plan to save the industry. None of them came; only the minister of energy and mining industry showed up, and he was neither acquainted with the miners’ plan nor could he answer straight-forward questions put to him by the miners’ delegates.
While in Kyiv this past week the miners have been put under pressure by the local authorities, the sylovyky (agents of the interior ministry and the secret police) as well as titushky (gangs of hired thugs). http://www.kvpu.org.ua/uk/news/6/3985/shakhtari-–-ne-ti-lyudi,-yaki-prodayutsya
The miners’ demands have remained consistent. From the start they have called for clearing up months of wage arrears, protecting their pension and invalidity benefits from the cuts set out in the current state budget, preventing the closure of mines and saving their jobs. They have been demanding that the government invest sufficiently in the state owned mines to ensure a secure supply of coal to electricity generating stations, rather than buying coal and electricity from abroad, in the first instance from Russia, at significantly higher prices than for domestic coal and electricity.
Miners’ demands are political
The issue at hand is by no means an economic one alone. The Ukrainian state is already dependent on Russia for natural gas and nuclear fuel. And it is at war with Russia. The miners see in the decision of the Ukrainian ministry of energy and coal to import electricity from Russia and then to subsidise the cost of electricity it sends into Russian occupied Crimea as a further sign of betrayal not only of the miners, but also of the country’s energy security. They are demanding that the government strengthen its own security by maintaining the coal mines on territory it still controls in the Donbas, as well as those in the Volynian-Lvovian Basin in the west of the country. That makes a lot of sense. At present, there is not a penny in the 2015 state budget for the maintenance of these mines, whereas 1.2bn UAH is allocated for their closure. That doesn’t.
The attempts to intimidate the miners and politically manipulate their grievances have now led the Free Union of Medical Workers (head: O.O. Panasenko) to appeal for actions of solidarity with the miners. The union has called upon its branches to meet and consider “the formation of workers’ committees at enterprises, institutions and organisations and the organisation of protests for the protection of Ukrainian statehood and the defense of citizens’ constitutional rights”. (http://www.kvpu.org.ua/uk/news/6/3983/zayava-vpmpu)
It is undoubtedly the case that the government is literally fighting for its life with diminishing resources and that, after Kolomoisky, Akhmetov’s revenue streams and his allegiances are now in its line of fire. In the midst of this fight it is very convenient for Poroshenko’s camp to brand the miners as Akhmetov’s rent-a-mob. It refuses to acknowledge that the miners are losing confidence in the government’s ability to safeguard not only their livelihood, but the country’s independence. And that they have a plan to defend the country’s energy security.
The miners should be heard. Here is what the Independent Union of Mine Workers say. Judge for yourself.
Declaration of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine
24 April 2015
History shows that the miners’ movement has always been one of the preconditions for democratic change in Ukrainian Society. The miners’ strikes in 1989-90 were one of the forces that brought down the Soviet Union.
The coal mining industry is in a critical state, to which it has been brought by erroneous decisions of the government and the oligarchs which contradict the national interests of Ukraine. One of these decisions is to close the mines en masse.
Today the miners are compelled once again to stand up in defense of Ukraine’s independence, this time with respect to its energy sector.
As a result we are seeing the systematic rise in arrears of wages owing to the miners, loss of jobs and growth in unemployment across the country. No real steps have been taken to suppress corruption in the energy sector.
In the conditions of a hybrid war, when war is fought not just on the military front but also on the economic and informational fronts, Ukraine is buying coal and electricity from the occupying power and thereby it supports it and not its own industry. Moreover, the coal is purchased from Russia at a price that is much higher than the Ukrainian price. According to the contract for the supply of electricity to Crimea, a subject of the Russian Federation, a contract signed with the agreement of V(olodymyr). Demchyshyn, the minister of energy and coal industry (of Ukraine), Ukraine is buying electricity at an inflated price from Russia and selling it to Crimea at a discounted price. So Ukrainians are paying out of their pockets for the difference by way of increased utility tariffs for households and communal services. It is clear that certain forces are interested in this set-up, so as to ruin the Ukrainian coal industry and to leave Ukraine permanently dependent on its aggressor-neighbour for its energy supplies.
That is why the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine have come today to the walls of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) the President’s Administration and the Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining with their demand that corruption in the coal industry be suppressed, that the minister whose is trying to completely wreck the energy sector be dismissed, to carry out reforms and save Ukraine’s energy sector.
However, the mass media are publishing only unflattering photographs of protest meetings and negative articles about “Akhmetov rent-a-mobs”, trying to discredit the miners and in this way shift the focus of attention away from the immediate problems facing the fuel and energy complex.
The Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine is an organisation that defends the interests of miners and of the Ukrainian people, and it works for the development of the energy potential of the country. We have never and will never work in the interests of oligarchs, business or political forces.
The Ukrainian miners are mobilising themselves today in order to defend the coal mining sector and to prevent corrupt forces from ruining the energy potential of Ukraine.
M. Volynets, Head of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine
Translated by Marko Bojcun from the original on the website of the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine: http://kvpu.org.ua/uk/news/6/3982/zayava-npgu-shhodo-protestiv-shakhtariv