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Back-door games of Ukrainian Cabinet: Who is Yuriy Vitrenko?

Author : Olena Holubeva

Source : 112 Ukraine

The Verkhovna Rada failed the loudest appointment of the year, without giving the required number of votes for the appointment of the former top manager of Naftogaz Yuriy Vitrenko to the post of Deputy Prime Minister – Energy Minister
17:50, 18 December 2020

The Verkhovna Rada failed the loudest appointment of the year, without giving the required number of votes for the appointment of the former top manager of Naftogaz Yuriy Vitrenko to the post of Deputy Prime Minister – Energy Minister. The position to which he was wanted to be appointed in the Ukrainian government has not existed since 2014.

Related: Ukraine's gas market: Changes in prices for population

It was assumed that after nine months, during which several ministers with the prefix acting were replaced at the head of the Ministry of Energy, the department would finally have a full-fledged head. In addition, there will be a person in the government who will also be subordinate to those state-owned companies that are not subordinate to the ministry. We are talking about Naftogaz, the Operator of the GTS, the operator of the main Ukrenergo power grids.

Experts are sure that mainly with the appointment of Vitrenko, the authorities wanted to create a powerful counterbalance to current Naftogaz CEO, Andriy Kobolev, who is supported by the West and whose influence has grown significantly lately.

On the eve of the vote

Vitrenko's candidacy did not receive the required number of votes, it was supported only by 186 MPs (226 are needed). A few hours before the vote, his candidacy was not supported by the Committee on Energy and Housing and Utilities, leaving the parliament with the right to make the final decision.

"I personally know Vitrenko, so I will never support his appointment to this position in my life. He is a talker and a theorist. He utters the correct phrases, but they are not supported by absolutely anything. Moreover, he is a manipulator. He will have to sort out the situation with National Commission for State Regulation of Energy and Public Utilities, return the controllability of Ukrenergo, GTS Operator. This position should be a very competent official. And he is a businessman-talker," said Oleksiy Kucherenko, member of the Committee on Energy and Housing and Utilities Services.

Related: Ukraine imposes special import duties for coal, diesel fuel, liquefied gas

But the opinion of the committee member Serhiy Nagornyak was the opposite.

I made the decision to support Yuriy Vitrenko at the committee and in the hall. But the balance in the hall is now 50-50, given that some political forces (not supporting Vitrenko's candidacy) are working even with representatives of our faction. It is possible that there will be votes is a stretch and may not be enough," he told after the meeting.

It should be noted that Vitrenko's candidacy for this post caused even greater resonance in expert and political circles than the appointment of prime ministers. Over the past three weeks, social networks and the media have been actively discussing this decision.

Such a high interest, on the one hand, is explained by the media presence of Vitrenko himself. In the past, a friend and colleague of Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolev, and after leaving the company, his worst enemy, Vitrenko mercilessly criticized him and Naftogaz. Both the President's Office and the government got out of him, the deputies both in the hall and at the committee recalled this to him. They asked how Yuri Vitrenko managed to become a power contender for such a high position after such a flurry of criticism, including against the head of the Zelensky’s office, Andriy Yermak. After all, Yermak, according to rumors, was not at all against his appointment.

Related: Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany demands to ban oil and gas supplies from Russia

Vitrenko replied to this that he criticized the actions of the authorities, and not personalities, to which connoisseurs of the content of his Facebook page could reasonably object.

But if Kobolev is a creature of the West, then the decision on the current appointment of Vitrenko comes from Ukraine, several sources told 112.ua at once who are well aware of the situation. In the media and social networks, the most common allegations were that the appointment of Vitrenko was blessed by the oligarch Kolomoisky and Yermak.

The oligarch is interested in cheap electricity for his ferroalloy plants. He is also associated with firms that were engaged in the import of coal and electricity from Russia. It was Kolomoisky who unleashed a real war with "green generation", in which his opponent Rinat Akhmetov owns a large share of renewable energy generation. As reported, the main difficulty in choosing a single candidate for the post of the head of the Ministry of Energy, in which the line of acting duties changed over the course of 9 months, was that the head was to become a compromise figure for the two largest oligarchs. The candidates that suited Akhmetov did not suit Kolomoisky, and vice versa.

By the way, at the meeting of the faction, at which Vitrenko's candidacy was approved, head of the Ministry of Ecology Roman Opimakh, who is unofficially considered to be "Akhmetov's man", was considered for this position. Until recently, Opimakh headed the State Service of Geology and Subsoil, where he moved from the position of head of the Association of Extractive Companies. Among its founders is DTEK Oil & Gas Akhmetov.

The fact that Vitrenko's appointment was actively promoted by the Office of the President is confirmed by the fact that his candidacy was supported by head of the Energy and Housing and Communal Services Committee Andriy Gerus. Head of the Servant of the People faction David Arakhamia also supported Vitrenko before the vote in the parliamentary hall.

Another reason for the high interest in the appointment of Vitrenko is the very position of Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Energy, which has been disclosed from the Ukrainian Cabinet since 2014.

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The last person to hold this position was Yuriy Boyko, co-chairman of the Opposition Platform - For Life faction. From December 2012 to February 2014, he oversaw the areas of ecology, natural resources, energy, coal industry, and industrial policy. Moreover, by appointing him to this position after the post of Minister of Energy (2010-2012), the authorities weakened his sphere of influence, clearing the way for Eduard Stavitsky, to whom real levers of influence were transferred, in particular in the field of energy, Hennadiy Kobal recalls.

"Boyko was given this position in order to push him away from real management: the staff of his employees after being appointed deputy prime minister was sharply reduced. Real levers of influence on the situation, including at the state-owned company, were given to Eduard Stavitsky, whose activities were controlled by the Yanukovych administration," he explained.

In the case of Vitrenko, it was just about increasing influence. It was expected that in his new position, Vitrenko would run not only Naftogaz, but also other large state-owned companies that were not subordinate to the Ministry of Energy, in particular, Moscow State University, which after unbundling became the owner of the Ukrainian GTS (Moscow State University is subordinate to the Ministry of Finance) and the operator of the main power grids Ukrenergo (subordinate to the Cabinet).

Related: Gazprom considers Belarusian protests as threat to gas transit to Europe

The question of how he will cope with problems that are not core to him caused the greatest concern on the eve of his appointment. Over the past 18 years, Vitrenko has left four times and returned to Naftogaz three times. In his new position, he would have to deal not only with gas, but also solve many urgent problems: the electricity market, billions of dollars in debt to "green" energy, the closure of state mines, and the increase in utility tariffs. We need a person who will clearly understand what is happening in the heat and power supply sector, water utilities, and utilities. And it's not a fact that Vitrenko is just such a person.

At the meeting of the profile committee and in the hall, the candidate was asked questions about areas that are not related to the gas direction. In particular, he was asked about his vision for further work with NEURC, resolving the crisis in the electricity market and the situation with the "green", ways to get out of the crisis "Energoatom" and improving the situation with blackouts, which regularly occur due to deterioration of power grids. Vitrenko did not give clear answers to most of these questions.

He proposed lowering gas prices by increasing domestic production, the failure of which, according to critics, he was directly involved, the transfer of Russian gas transmission points to the eastern border and energy efficiency measures.

When asked if he has a vision of who will be his deputies, including the profile one for coal, Vitrenko replied: “Unfortunately, now I do not have a formed vision, in particular with regard to deputies in the ministry. people too, you need to meet and talk with them. You need to discuss their vision, their plans, and only after that decide what to do next.” He promised to consult with the deputies of the committee during their appointment.

The main reproach against Vitrenko, which was also a leitmotif in the hall before the voting, was the reproach for receiving a multi-million dollar prize for the victory over Gazprom in the Stockholm arbitration. According to Viktor Andrusiv, it was precisely the desire to keep the prize that did not allow Vitrenko to take up the post of prime minister in due time.

Related: Kharkiv region reports explosion at gas processing station

Future of the Ukrainian energy sector

Vitrenko could become the fifth head of the Ministry of Energy over the past year. After Minister Oleksiy Orzhel left, Vitaly Shubin replaced him as an acting person in the office. Then Olga Buslavets came, who left her three weeks ago. Her first deputy, Yuriy Boyko, took over the reins of government. For the chair of the head of the ministry, which until April was united into a single structure with the Ministry of Ecology, there was one of the fiercest battles. Whose candidates for this position were not considered by the Servants of the People party! The following candidates were considered: Ivan Plachkov (in February 2005 - August 2006 - Minister of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine, ex-head of Kyivenergo), Oleh Dubyna (from December 24, 2007, to March 2, 2010 – Chairman of the Board of Naftogaz), as well as deputy general director of Ukrtransnafta Andriy Pasishnyk - and this is not a complete list.

Worst of all, the ministry is once again beheaded.

“Today we have a legislative collision – the powers of Yuriy Boyko as acting minister of energy (who came to the office after Buslavets left) end in mid-January. And the Rada leaves for a month to work in committees and with voters. The next plenary sessions begin only on January 23. It turns out that the ministry may be left without a minister against the background of a huge number of problems in the energy sector,” Serhiy Nagornyak told.

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