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Protests incited by gas price hike grip Ukraine: Would they escalate into new Maidan?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Since the beginning of 2021, protests against the rise in prices for housing and communal services have continued all over Ukraine. People are blocking roads, picketing the offices of the local gas suppliers, and demanding that the government settle the tariff issue
23:08, 12 January 2021

Open source

Why do Ukrainians protest

The rise in prices for utility services since January 1 touched two categories: electricity and gas.

The government canceled the preferential price of 90 kopecks (1 USD = UAH 28,20) per kWh for the first 100 kWh and approved a fixed price for electricity for the population at the level of UAH 1.68 per kWh.

The Ministry of Energy explains: the new tariff will be valid until March 31, 2021, adopted "in order to avoid a rapid increase in the tariff for the population." And the relevant department is silent about what will happen after March 31. Although it is quite clear that there will be no rollback to preferential rates. Therefore, most likely, further Ukrainians will have another rise in price.

The situation with gas is a little different. Since August 1, 2020, there is no single price for all consumers in Ukraine. Prices are not set for specific areas, communities or cities. On New Year's Eve, most gas suppliers announced their January price proposals. And, to put it mildly, they didn’t make us happy - tariffs for natural gas increased significantly in all regions. Read about why gas prices are rising in our material.

Related: Entrepreneurs rally in Kyiv: Protesters come to Palace of Sports

The lowest price for January was set by Gas AP, Askania Energy, SKV Teplobud, and Naftogaz. Gas will cost from 7 to 7.22 UAH per cubic meter (0.25 USD).

The high price was offered by the Lvivenergosbyt company - 10.8 UAH (0.38 USD). This is the only company whose offer exceeded UAH 10 per cubic meter. Other companies have prices in the range of 0.32-0.35 USD per cubic meter. However, the cost of the supplier's gas is not the entire amount that the consumer must pay. Since the beginning of 2020, Ukrainians have received separate invoices for gas supplies.

In Poltava, locals arranged protests against the new tariffs, they just noted that in addition to the growth in the cost of gas as such, the price for its delivery has tripled and has already reached 21.28 USD. And that's not counting the gas itself and other items in the payment.

Related: Explosion on main gas pipeline in Poltava region doesn't affect gas transit to Europe, - Naftogaz

On January 10, people blocked the road to Vysoky near Kharkiv. Local supplier Kharkivgazsbyt offers a price of 0,35 USD per one cubic meter of fuel. And this is one of the highest prices in Ukraine. Residents of Balakliya also protested.

Also on Sunday, January 10, more than 100 local residents gathered at the entrance to the building of the city council in Mykolaiv. They demanded from the authorities not to raise prices for utilities. From the city council, the protesters moved to the Ingulsky bridge to block traffic. There, law enforcement officers acted tougher and dispersed the demonstrators. In Mykolaiv, the price of gas is even higher than in Kharkiv.

In Kryvy Rih, the hometown of President Zelenskiy, everything went according to a similar scenario: the protesters gathered under the building of the City Council and demanded that the tariff status quo be restored. From creativity – a collective appeal was made to a high-ranking fellow countryman with an appeal not to forget about election promises. As for the cost of fuel, Dnipropetrovskagazsbyt JSC offers a price of 0,35 USD per cubic meter.

One of the most massive actions was held on January 4 in Poltava. There it was held for the second time (the first, "preparatory", took place on December 28) and lasted for several hours. The protesters blocked the M-03 state highway and were serious. The protesters also added moral grievances to purely financial claims: they complained about the boorish attitude of local officials and about the unreasonable cutting off of consumers from communications. At the same time, Lubnygaz set a price of 0,32 USD. Poltava also protested on January 10 and 11.

Related: Ukrainian authorities rise electricity tariffs in 2021

But the Zhytomyr region raised three cities to protest at once: Korosten, Berdychiv, and Zhytomyr itself. They also held meetings near local councils, with a tariff of 0,35 USD per cubic meter. The Kyiv - Chop highway would be closed on Wednesday.

Already on January 11, Kherson, Vinnytsia, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Lviv joined the protests. As already mentioned, Lviv has the highest gas price in all of Ukraine. As for Kherson, the local Kherson Regional Power Supply Company offers fuel at 0,3 USD per cubic meter.

All protests are still small in number – on average, a hundred or two people attend them. However, the anti-tariff movement is gradually spreading throughout the country. And this can have serious political consequences for the government. In particular, for the current government.

Dissolution of the Cabinet and Parliament?

A year ago, President Zelensky promised to reduce gas and heat tariffs. In particular, he said that heating will cost Ukrainians half as much. In fact, it turned out that heating not only did not fall in price but also increased this winter.

For which the president paid the price: his popularity began to decline. According to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center in December 2020, both the rating of Zelensky personally and the ruling Servant of the People party fell by half - from 41% to 19% and from 36% to 17.5%, respectively. But that's not all. In the same poll, 20% of Ukrainians identified Zelensky as the politician of the year, and much more - 42% - associate their great disappointment with the president's name.

Even more interesting data is provided by the Rating sociological group, which conducted a poll on December 12-14. According to his testimony, 54% of respondents do not trust Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and at the same time, he leads the trust rating among all Ukrainian politicians with 43% support.

Andriy Zolotariov, head of the Third Sector Center, notes that the tariff problem is the most painful and most dangerous for the president. The tariffs should not have been touched and fixed at the current level. However, this was not done either. It is not surprising that sociology captures a moment of indignation and dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, the expert notes.

Related: Ukrainians protest against raising gas tariffs

Ruslan Bortnyk, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, also speaks about sociology. "Up to 70% of respondents consider the rise in prices for utilities is unlawful," he recalls. And especially in this situation, it is outrageous that high tariffs could be needed to cover the costs of Naftogaz CEO Kobolev and others like him.

Ukraine’s PM Shmygal would be remembered for something else, political analyst Oleksiy Yakubin says. First of all, there are failures in the fight against coronavirus and stupid lockdowns. But tariff policy can also serve as an excuse for dismissal - if not the main one, then one of many.

Shmygal's resignation was also talked about in the presidential faction. MP from the Servant of the People Olena Moshanets noted that the government would resign when "grounds arise for these changes to take place." According to somewhat vague wording, one still reads a completely possible (and early) resignation of the cabinet of ministers, on which it will be easy to hang all the mistakes in social policy.

As Parliamentary Speaker Dmytro Razumkov says, there are no grounds for dissolving the parliament now, but we must be ready for this. Indeed, in order to reduce the degree of tension, the president can take two steps: either restart the government again or dissolve the Verkhovna Rada for the second time (from 2019).

Related: Ukraine's govt proposes ways to reduce gas tariffs for population

Certain activization of politicians in connection with protest actions is indeed taking place. On January 11, Davyd Arakhamia said on his Facebook: "On behalf of the Servant of the People faction, I inform you that we are preparing a plan of anti-crisis measures to address the problems that may arise due to the increase in tariffs." He promised "quick decisions" and meetings with officials responsible for tariffs.

As for now, European Solidarity, Batkivshchyna, and Holos faction keep silent. As for the Opposition platform – For life party, this political force called the situation with tariffs "wild" even before the protests began. "It started back in 2014, when the government followed the lead of the IMF and raised energy prices, explaining that there will be market prices. Only what relation do we have to the European market and where people have market salaries - no one said," MP Yuriy Boyko noted on the air of 112Channel. And leader of the Opposition platform – For life party, Viktor Medvedchuk agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin on direct gas supplies to Ukraine, which would reduce its price for the population to 4 thousand per thousand cubic meters. According to Medvedchuk, a new round of tariff genocide in Ukraine by the authorities threatens the country with a social explosion.

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