Krytyka Polityczna (Poland): the Donbas coal, like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone

Interview with authors of the book “Black gold. The war for Donbass coal” Carolina Bacou-Pogorzelski (Karolina Baca-Pogorzelska) and Michal Potocki (Michał Potocki).

Krytyka Polityczna: In Polish Silesia in the mines subject to the coronavirus. In the Donbass, too?

Michal Potocki: In terms of the epidemic Donbass is not like Silesia, the most difficult situation now in Kiev, which is logical, because it is the capital and transport centre of the country, and also in Chernivtsi near the border with Romania. Many returned from Italy and brought back the virus. In the Donbass due to the peripheral situation of the region and low social activity, he came relatively late.

From the Ukrainian side cases not so much, but about the situation in the occupied part, there is no reliable data. The separatists make their numbers, but to verify the information difficult. They got the tests back from Russia, have introduced various preventive measures, such as social isolation, abandoned military parades on may 9. So, surprisingly, a sense of responsibility for the sanitary situation of the local authorities is higher than in Belarus, which is considered a sample order.

— As you have the idea to sit down and write together a book on the Donbass coal? Carolina dealt with the mining industry, Michal — foreign policy.

Carolina Baca of Pogorzelska: there was a topic with which we could not cope alone. I didn’t know the political realities of the region, did not speak Russian and Ukrainian poorly owned, and Michal, in turn, when we took the job, knew little about coal. He is now an expert, can distinguish what materials are used in the energy sector, and which in metallurgy.

M. P.: My knowledge about the coal was to ensure that people in the mine go with hammers and manually hack it. In the course of working on “Black gold” I saw how mechanized coal mining.

— And was it not partly so that political and axiological level, you are joined by Russia, or rather the robbery, which deals with Putin?

M. P.: Yes, in several planes. Coal mining began during the reign, the region was an industrial centre of Russian Empire. There were attracted foreign investors, there is a large Belgian settlement.

— There is an Association with Congo. It was a personal colony of king Leopold II, which destroyed millions of collecting rubber of the indigenous inhabitants, which is now back on the agenda after events in Minneapolis. The world is now engaged in racist crimes of the past.

M. P.: In Ukraine, the Belgians had cut off the hands, as in the Congo, but they exploited the region’s typical nineteenth century way. Donetsk itself, however, was founded by the Welshman, but it was the Belgians was there before the October revolution, the main investors. The Russians specifically wanted them, knowing that they have required for the development of the industrial potential experience in the mining sector.

The second factor that pushed us to work together — this is war. Russia, to put it mildly, acted as its catalyst. The conflict was launched by people who were directly connected with the Russian special services, a division invaded in April 2014 in Slavyansk. Only with the help of the Kremlin coal, which is mined in the Donbas, gets fake certificates and with them may go to other countries.

— In public discussions is used, rather, the General definition of “war in Ukraine”. You can narrow down?

M. P.: I don’t use this wording, because it’s like calling the war in Chechnya war in Russia. In a sense, that’s right, military action is underway in the framework of the Ukrainian state, however, we are talking about a limited area, even not on the entire territory of Donbas. It occupied approximately one-third.

In 2014, after the flight of Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine was faced with the paralysis of all state agencies. The plan-a maximum of Putin was to cut off Ukraine from the sea, to deprive her of access to the ports in Odessa and Mariupol, the industrial base in Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk, as well as technical intelligentsia — Kharkov. Began to spark riots. In some places Moscow inspired them, others were organized. The Ukrainians managed to limit the scale of this “Russian spring” in Donetsk and Luhansk. There to suppress the rebellion failed due to the proximity of Russia and a positive attitude to the idea of combining it with relatively large numbers of local residents.

War managed security services.

M. P.: the Kremlin began to send in the Donbass personnel intelligence officers. A vivid example is the above-mentioned Slavic, who captured a division of Igor strelkov, who earlier participated in the annexation of the Crimea. Until the beginning of 2014 he served in the FSB, and then resigned and went to the Crimea. Ukrainians are not found on the Peninsula of anyone who could take there order, as Igor Kolomoisky in Dnipropetrovsk. In Donetsk they were trying to bet on Sergey Taruta (by the way, in the past he had owned shares in the Gdansk shipyard), but he was too weak figure. When, in August of 2014 Ukraine has restored its army to such an extent that almost were able to take in the surroundings of Donetsk and Lugansk, a regular tank columns of the Russian army and moved the front line to where it is now.

— From your book should be that the Donbass anthracite (a form of high-quality coal) can be called raw materials, which are produced with violation of human rights, as blood diamonds in Sierra Leone.

M. P.: We wanted to enter Donbas realities in the global context. In different parts of the world repeats the same scenario. We originally chose such a hypothesis, but until we have delved into the topic, I had no idea how similar mechanisms are used.

Perhaps best described the procedure for the export of charcoal from Somalia. There are rebel groups who either collect tribute from local producers or are engaged in production themselves. They control the ports where the coal by sea is in such world trade centers like Dubai. Issued fake certificates that specify that the product is produced, for example, in Pakistan, the Comoros or Djibouti. With such documents, it can be sold to the United Arab Emirates or Oman.

— In a similar way to the Donbass anthracite gets to Europe?

M. P.: In General, Yes. The raw material is supplied to Russia via the land border which is not controlled by the Ukrainian customs service. There are issued Russian certificates, and then the coal travels by rail through Belarus to Poland and Ukraine or by sea to Turkey, the Balkans and Western Europe. In the EU the main importers are Belgium, Poland and Romania. The fact that the border crossing Malaszewicze in the Polish ports and the other two above-mentioned countries serve as a gateway to the EU. Then anthracite is re-exported further, but it is difficult to trace.

— Europe did not react to it?

M. P.: charcoal and coal from the Donbass, is not included in the official list of conflict minerals Organization for European economic cooperation. The EU initiated the process of implementing regulations that will require importers to monitor and fully document where brought, for example, tungsten, where it is produced, through the hands of some intermediaries he went whether in the mines human rights, not whether there is child labour, control the production of any armed group. Prior to the listing of coal still a long way, but we should set ourselves ambitious targets. If this happens, imports of hard coal from the Donbass will be blocked, because importers will not be able to submit documents about its origin.

K. B.-P.: In the course of our investigation we have seen documents that caused the issues. Sometimes they were listed as “country of origin unknown” in the column “manufacturer” it was the dash or as the download location indicated by the station Gukovo on the Russian-Ukrainian border, even though the satellite images show that the appropriate infrastructure is not there.

In these papers you can write anything. So lets do the customs legislation. Anthracite, the EU is practically not mined, so there is no customs duties, the topic of protection of competition in this case is not relevant. In the end, nobody pays special attention to the verification of the documents, and measured by eye, where did the raw materials, it is impossible. The anthracite learn easily, it has a peculiar luster, but the place of production without chemical analysis will not recognize. You need to make a merged sample from the material in the wagon or on a ship, and on its basis to try and figure out the origin of the raw materials.

— Is it possible to limit illegal activity?

K. B.-P.: If coal spread standards used with respect to conflict minerals, the trade of these raw materials, including in Poland, I’d expect a thorough reorganization. It is difficult to believe that Germany will go for it. She closed all your mines, extracting coal, and depends entirely on imports, and that comes mainly from Russia. Berlin does not want to come into conflict with Moscow. But we do not claim that change is impossible, you need only good will.

— For new sanctions now is not a good atmosphere.

MP: She was right six years ago, when the war began. When in the beginning of 2015 was fighting for debaltseve, the EU frightened the Russians that if they go further, he will introduce an embargo on coal. The Russians have stopped, so the topic is stalled. Now with each passing month she became more and more relegated to the background. It is increasingly said that Russia needed to talk and to trade. The efforts of States are in favor of sanctions, i.e. Poland, Sweden and the Baltic countries, focused on how to preserve the existing measures, to Italy, Hungary or France vetoed the decision to extend for another six months. To achieve this possible, and more ambitious targets, the government of the party “law and justice” (PiS) does not put before him.

The inclusion of hard coal from the Donbass in the list of conflict minerals — that’s the plan maximum. The minimum plan would be the introduction of people and companies that we write in our book, in the app called “European black list”. For this is enough existing legal tools. You only need the unanimity of member countries of the EU, there are precedents. This list has made recently, for example, the people who organized the elections in Crimea, which was contrary to international military law, forbidding to hold elections in the occupied territories.

— You touched upon the subject of the Polish conspiracy of silence?

M. P.: Polish government showed three types of reactions. Energy Minister Kujawski Krzysztof (Krzysztof Tchórzewski) brushed aside the issue, saying that, in his opinion, the volume of imports is not so great that it mattered. In turn, Deputy foreign Minister Yang Zajicek (Jan Dziedziczak) threatened to incite us intelligence agencies to find out who stands behind us.

— You have not learned whether he exceeded his powers? Freedom of the media and so on…

K. B-P: He answered the request of a group of deputies from the party “Modern”. It all went on a tangent, our names may sound.

M. P.: the Third type of reaction was a lampoon on the portal “italicize”. I also belong to the category of governmental reactions, as this resource acts as a mouthpiece of the authorities. Our names in the text not known, but there was a hint that we are paid by Rinat Akhmetov. The reader of the book “Black gold” such an idea would have seemed absurd, after all, the oligarch speaks it is not a positive hero. In General, the fore, the rhetoric in the spirit of “besieged fortress”, search of the customers of our publications.

— Was there any more meaningful response?

M. P.: the Embassy of Poland in Kyiv made a statement suggesting leading case in Ukraine businessmen to adhere strictly to the requirements of Ukrainian legislation. In this case, it meant that the Polish authorities did not advise them to trade with the separatists.

K. B.-P.: Another wave of reactions after the publication of the second part of our materials, we saw in the Sejm. MPs have asked the government questions, and the Minister Tchorzewski and his Deputy Grzegorz Libiszowski (Grzegorz Tobiszowski) said that this matter will be engaged in appropriate services. MEP Jaroslaw Walesa (Jarosław Wałęsa) asked a few questions Federica Mogherini, who was then the head of European diplomacy. She stated that this area is not included in the competence of the EU and each member should monitor the situation yourself.

When the topic received international publicity, we have tried to know the position of the foreign Ministry of other countries, where coal from the Donbass. Some ignored us, some said about the same as the Polish authorities and the European Commission. Everyone was trying to dissociate themselves from this problem.

You were not only interested in the current political situation, the situation of people living in the Donbass. The fate of the miners is tragic.

K. B.-P.: it is possible to draw a parallel with how things were in Silesia a few decades ago. Such conditions in the Silesian mines were in the days when their predatory exploitation was performed by the Germans. In the Donbas as it is today. There is not security, do not invest in fire prevention, protection against sedimentation of rocks. The main thing — to get out of the ground as much coal. Many of the local mines before the war suffered from lack of investment. Especially it concerned public enterprises, because the state means a draw. With more money in their mines invested by Rinat Akhmetov. The separatists seized them from him in 2017, but the effects of these investments are still visible.

— Can the climate crisis and the gradual failure of the European coal lead to the restriction of imports of hard coal from the Donbass?

K. B.-P.: In the EU the anthracite used not primarily in the energy sector, and metallurgy and chemical plants, where, as in the manufacture of soda, it can replace coke. For these processes the anthracite will be needed. Climate policy of the EU provides for a gradual restriction of the use of coal in the energy sector, but at the same time, for example, coking coal, needed for steel production made in the European list of critical raw materials.