Lost in political translation, or the tale of a "planned sacking" of Naftogaz chief

Ihor Orel
20:15, 04 December 2019
Economy
578 0
Opinion

One of the main topics of recent days was the alleged plan to sack head of National Joint Stock Company Naftogaz of Ukraine Andriy Kobolyev. It all started with a careless statement by Minister of Energy and Environment Oleksiy Orzhel voiced at a December 2 briefing.

The minister told reporters about the course of negotiations on gas transit between Ukraine, Russia and the European Union, explained the details of the government-proposed gas price for the heating season, and then unexpectedly decided to state that the Cabinet of Ministers made a political decision to change the leadership in all strategic state companies.

The journalists decided to clarify: is this a political decision of the government toward all companies, including Naftogaz and Ukrenergo?

To which the minister immediately replied: "Absolutely."

We can only guess if this was done intentionally, or the minister did not think at that moment about the weight of the words uttered. But they flew into the information space immediately.

In a matter of hours, the "news" about the imminent dismissal by the government of the head of the Naftogaz holding, which is key to the development of the national economy, circled all Ukrainian media and beyond, becoming one of the main topics of the day, seriously agitating many.

Rash words of the country's top managers could turn out to be very costly for Ukraine.

After all, whatever may be said about Andriy Kobolyev as head of the state-owned company and his premiums, it’s hard not to recognize the merits of the Naftogaz management team in improving the company's efficiency and in confronting the Russian Gazprom, which a few years ago seemed an invincible Goliath.

Surprisingly, a few hours later the Ministry of Energy issued a release in which it tried to disown such a categorical interpretation of their leader's statement.

Late in the evening of the same day, the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture Tymofiy Mylovanov spoke on an urgent topic, saying there would be no changes in the management of Naftogaz.

No wonder, because for the first time in many years, the state holding and the government are working in the same direction and are united in the vision of many strategic issues.

Moreover, the stable position of Naftogaz management strengthens the position of our country in complicated gas negotiations with Russia.

Therefore, it is not difficult to guess how surprised our European partners were by such a "turn", and how the news headlines about the "change" of Naftogaz management were perceived in Moscow. They really do not like Kobolyev and his team for Russia's shameful loss in the Stockholm arbitration dispute.

However, this mishap in communication is just another one in a row. For example, most recently, the Minister of Energy announced that the "discount" on gas in the case of direct deliveries from the Russian Federation will be directed to subsidies to the households.

After these words, the picture immediately surfaced in the public mind of 2010 and the "Kharkiv Agreements" with Russia, which lead to a political "discount" on gas from Gazprom in exchange for a prolongation of the Russian fleet's presence in Crimea.

And if you recall that the president of Russia, the initiator of the war against our country, Vladimir Putin, constantly declares a certain mythical discount for Ukraine, then the public reaction was expected – it was definitely negative.

However, as it turned out, the minister meant something completely different. Now our country imports gas from Europe at a price that includes its cost at the European hub plus the cost of delivery. The Minister expects that in the case of direct deliveries from Russia, the formula will be changed to the price at the European hub, or to the "European hub minus delivery" since there will no longer be any need to transmit gas from Europe.

That is, for some reason he called the difference between the current price and the possible future price a "discount" and repeated this word several times, without fully explaining what he means.

It is worth noting that there are enough such communication failures in other ministries and departments, however, the issue of energy security, the issue of tariffs is very relevant today, and therefore causes a wide public outrage.

It is easy to guess that each such an ambiguous statement will be used to the maximum by the aggressor state, which does not hesitate to impose on the Ukrainian public the narrative of full-out "treason" and distrust of government, and on Europe – the myth of Ukraine being a failed state.

The government should now review its communication strategy with the media and public and make it more meaningful. Otherwise, rash words of the country's top managers could turn out to be very costly for Ukraine.

Ihor Orel

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