The inability of fugitive Kharkiv oligarch S.Kurchenko to organize the work of the coal mining and metallurgical enterprises transferred under his control in CADLO forced the Kremlin curators to change places in a table.
The second and no less important reason for the departure of Vneshtorgservis was the understanding (which came almost 7 years later) that the figures behind the VTS owner from the entourage of fugitive ex-president V.Yanukovych will never be able to return to Ukrainian politics.
This means that it makes no sense to give them a project that can generate tens and hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Moscow also did not want to leave such a fat piece of pie to the Luhansk and Donetsk puppets.
In this context, we should consider the appearance in the "DNR"-"LNR" of the company Donskiye Ugli Trading House, which has declared claims to control the sale of coal mined in the territory of the unrecognized "republics".
Plunder and Flee Inc. in a new way
A screenshot of letter from Donskiye Ugli LLC, a straw company with an authorized capital of $135, registered in Rostov-on-Don, appeared on social networks and telegram channels at the end of January.
Despite the "ridiculous" status of a "straw company", its director demands from certain heads of organizations to submit applications for coal shipments from February 1 under the already signed contracts. Moreover, both in the "LNR" and in the "DNR".
The fact that the contracts have been concluded is an important circumstance. It indicates that another redistribution of the coal industry in CADLO is already a fait accompli.
Of course, no one would sign agreements with the "straw company" without an instruction "from above" and understanding who really stands behind it.
Citing sources in Donetsk, former Deputy Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Heorhiy Tuka claims that leader of OPFL, deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Viktor Medvedchuk is the "curator" of the Donskiye Ugli company.
At the same time, his direct ties with this structure are not traced – after all, it would be too improvidently. Even for an odious politician who has never hidden his pro-Russian views.
However, signs of fictitiousness of Donskiye Ugli are obvious. According to the registration data, the company's office is located in the Rostov industrial zone in the annex to the administration building of the Prodmash plant.
Another company, Cleaning Center LLC, is registered at the same address. In total, dozens of such structures are registered in the building.
In brief, quite a strange place for the "office" was chosen by a company claiming to be the exclusive operator of the coal market in CADLO. Its director is no less strange.
According to open sources, in addition to Donskiye Ugli, S.Lisogor manages 4 more companies with an authorized capital of $680 and $135, registered in Moscow.
According to the documents, one has permission to trade in fuel, the second – for the production of paper and cardboard. Previously, S.Lisogor was listed as the director of a cleaning company, a recruiting agency and other structures with the same authorized capital of $135.
For understanding: the authorized capital" of really operating cleaning companies in Russia starts from $2700. Nevertheless, all coal mined in CADLO will now be sold through this "merchant".
It is interesting that the official websites of the "DNR"-"LNR" governments contain no information about the decisions made in favor of Donskiye Ugli, to which S.Lisogor refers in his letter.
It is likely that they do exist, but in the form of informal oral agreements.
Kurchenko, bag and baggage!
The Vneshtorgservis company, the previous manager of the coal industry, registered in unrecognized South Ossetia, did not resort to such deep secrecy.
But managers of S.Kurchenko failed even the task of establishing normal operation of the mines, some of which were seized by the separatists in 2014 and some in 2017. They did not try to do it at all.
Despite the carte blanche provided in the form of almost complete tax exemption (with the exception of income from the miners' wages), VTS quickly accumulated billions of dollars in debt.
Both to the mines for the shipped coal and to the "republican" budgets. The debt reached $109 billion at the end of November 2019, of which $34 million – directly to the mines.
Therefore, salary delays of 2-4 months became usual practice there. Even though the salary itself is several times less than in Ukrainian and Russian mines: $177-340.
And despite the fact that coal from CADLO is regularly shipped not only to Russia, but also for long-distance export: to Turkey, Czech Republic and Poland.
According to the miners' trade unions, which in turn refer to representatives of the "DNR"-"LNR" governments, the total income of VTS in 2018 amounted to $1.39 billion and $1.6 - in 2019.
That is, there was money for settlements. It is just that S.Kurchenko's owners and his managers appropriated it and just did not pay suppliers, incl. coal mining enterprises.
Those, in turn, not only did not pay the workers, but also did not invest anything in the repair of equipment and preparation of new longwall faces.
VTS got the last chance in November 2019 by signing a 2-year restructuring agreement with the CADLO "authorities" for payments on accumulated debts. But, obviously, everything quickly went out of the agreed schedule again, which, eventually, led to the collapse of coal mining. And to the final parting with VTS.
Data on coal production in the "DNR"-"LNR" have not been published for a long time, trying to hide the deplorable situation. But indirect indicators can be used to estimate the terrifying depth of the fall.
According to the reporting data of the "DNR government", the share of coal industry in the sales of industrial products in January-November 2020 was only 9.4% and metallurgy - 19.7%.
That is, the key branches of the Donbas economy brought only a third of the income from industrial production. Everything was different before the war.
So, the metallurgy gave 42% of all sales of industrial products in 2008, and coal - 16%.
The plans for the extraction of 8 million tons of coal in 2020, announced earlier in the "DNR", have not been fulfilled. This, approximately, would correspond to the indicator of 2019. Given that the mines seized by the militants gave about 16 million tons before the start of the war.
Now, thanks to VTS, the failure has worsened. This can be seen using the example of individual associations. Such as Makiivvuhillia. 2.21 million tons were produced here in 2012 and 1.26 million tons - in 2019.
It got even worse in 2020, as follows from the monthly production data.
The picture is about the same in other associations of the "republic".
Production in the "LNR" in 2020 amounted to 4.5 million tons (this data can be strongly embellished by local "authorities" for propaganda purposes) against 6.16 million tons in 2012.
The second reason for replacing S.Kurchenko with Donskiye Ugli was lack of achievements on the political front.
The Kremlin expected an increase in revanchist sentiments in Ukraine after the Euromaidan against the backdrop of disappointment with the new government and its economic failures. They hoped to return the fugitives to big-league politics riding this wave. But that did not happen. The only representative of the former omnipotent "Family" who tried to stay in the political arena was former Minister of Income Oleksandr Klymenko.
However, his party showed zero ratings, and was banned in 2018. Whereas the rest of the voters sympathizing with the Party of Regions members focused on V.Medvedchuk's OPFL. This is confirmed by the results of the local elections held in 2020.
In this case, the appearance in CADLO of a new "overseer" of the coal industry, the connection with which is attributed to V.Medvedchuk, looks logical.
Such assumptions may turn out to be true taking into account the data of investigations conducted by journalists and anti-corruption non-governmental organizations that discovered involvement in the sale of coal from CADLO to Ukraine by deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from OPFL Taras Kozak, a close business partner of V.Medvedchuk.
Earlier, OstroV noted the non-transparency and "shadow" nature of the key directions of V.Medvedchuk's business in Ukraine.
But it seems that the politician known for his social connection with the Kremlin leadership prefers not to put all eggs into one basket. So, he is actively developing on the other side of the Ukrainian-Russian border.
According to the journalistic investigation data, offshore firms associated with his wife O.Marchenko and business partner T.Kozak were granted the right in 2015 to develop the third largest oil field in the Russian Arctic (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug).
They became the owners of the Novoshakhtinsk Petroleum Products Plant (Rostov oblast) in 2019.
Let us remind that the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel in Ukraine is considered V.Medvedchuk's core business. The presence of mining and processing facilities in the Russian Federation makes it possible to enter CADLO with the own products. And gradually consolidate the remnants of the Donetsk and Luhansk economies in the hands. The appearance of Donskiye Ugli to replace VTS fits into this logic.
It illustrates the growing political and economic influence of the OPFL leader in the Donbas on both sides of the contact line.
Will the sanctions imposed on February 3 by the National Security and Defense Council against T.Kozak and the TV channels recorded on him prevent this growth? This will become clear closer to autumn. But one thing is for sure: if Rinat Akhmetov had been told in 2014 who would run his mines in 2021, he would not only have been buzzing…
Vitaliy Krymov, OstroV