06.06.2017.Ukrainian Officials Sabotaging Legalization of Amber Mining

The Ukrainian authorities are not going to legalize the black amber mining market and reform the industry of subsoil use in accordance with European standards. Despite the numerous promises of officials and the Prime Minister
Vladimir Groisman to stop the subsoil plundering, no one is in a hurry to put things in order in this industry. The situation around the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine (Gosgeonadra), which oversees the issuance of permits for the extraction of minerals, in particular amber, is the best proof of that. As soon as this institution began taking real steps to legalize amber mining, the Government established its own control over this strategic industry through illegal appointments.

The situation with the legalization of amber mining in Ukraine remains critical. Due to spontaneous extraction only, the state loses billions in profit. Illegal
activities of miners and their methods of mining amber have already destroyed a significant part of reserved forests in the north of the country. The most critical is the situation in the Zhytomyr region that is in the lead of illegal mining of this fossil.
Amber mafia operates there, it shields the black business and is lobbied by officials.

However, this year Gosgeonadra have managed to take a big step towards legalizing the amber market in Ukraine. At last official mining companies have been given an opportunity to mine amber legally, due to the increase in the number of permits for development and extraction of this stone. As of today, nine enterprises in Ukraine have such permits.

As soon as Gosgeonadra began stirring the amber industry into the legal field,
the Ukrainian government suddenly felt the urge to change the leadership of the institution. By a strange coincidence, the authorities appointed Oleg Kirilyuk as a temporary managing director. He is from the Zhytomyr region, which has the leading indicators of illegal amber mining, and in which the situation is the most
barbaric - “amber wars" here go as far as shootings.

Strange Story with Gosgeonadra Managers

Oleg Kirilyuk, along with another scandalous Ukrainian official Nikolai Foschyiy won the competition for the posts of deputy chairmen of Gosgeonadra
last year. At that time, activists, experts and specialists in the geological industry rang the alarm because of numerous violations by the competition commission and the odious winners. Consequently, Ukrainian courts recognized this competition as illegal, canceled its result and ordered to hold it again.
Last month, it was planned to elect the new Head of Gosgeonadra. However,
the competition commission was not able to choose a quorum for this purpose, therefore the competition was postponed for a week. During this time, the Ukrainian government made an attempt to appoint Oleg Kirilyuk and
Nikolai Foschyiy as Deputy Chairmen of Gosgeonadra, and Kirilyuk simultaneously became the temporary Head of the Service. However, this decision was once again cancelled by the court.

A week later, an official competition to elect the new Head of Gosgeonadra ended in vain: the commission did not manage to pick the winner for no substantial reasons. In two days people led by Kiriluk and Foshchiy simply took over the building of the Geological Service of Ukraine. The official order for their appointment appeared only 4 days later.

Advantageous Appointees
The new appointees’ ties with officials of the highest echelon of power prove the fact that “inside men” get promoted to managing positions in Gosgeonadra. The Ukrainian government needs tamed managers who would have a grip on the geological industry and control the amber one.
That is why the Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman and the Minister of Ecology Semerak put their people - Nikolai Foshchiy and Zhytomir official Oleg Kirilyuk - into the leading positions in Gosgeonadra. The latter is believed to be connected with the people's deputy from the Zhytomir region - Borislav Rosenblatt, who in turn is associated with supervising the amber mafia.

Oleg Kirilyuk was a member of the former pro-Russian political force Party of Regions. Occupying a high post in the Zhytomir region, Kirilyuk repeatedly made
decisions that were subsequently appealed in court, and his actions were recognized as unlawful. According to Ukrainian journalists, Oleg Kirilyuk bankrupted one of the most promising enterprises in Zhytomir. Local civic activists and industry representatives protested against his appointment to the leading position in Gosgeonadra on multiple occasions.

While Nikolai Foshchiy, who was appointed as the Deputy Chairman of Gosgeonadra, used to work as the General Director of one of the largest geological enterprises and was fired for the embezzlement of funds, multi-million dollar salary arrears and bringing the enterprise to bankruptcy. Thus, he became a suspect in criminal cases.

Illegal personnel changes and such people’s appointments to senior positions in the strategic industry indicate that the Ukrainian government is not really interested in the reform of the subsoil use. All of the above-mentioned facts prove that the Ukrainian government has no intention of stirring the industry of amber mining into the legal field. After all, the highly-profitable sphere is too tempting of a treat to share it with someone else. That is exactly why illegal methods and political schemes are in play, everything to keep the control over large amber deposits.

There are mechanisms for resolving the problem of illegal amber mining in Ukraine, but they presuppose, first of all, political will. Will Ukraine succeed?