William Nattrass William Nattrass

The battle for Eastern Europe’s energy sector

Getty

The fight to power eastern Europe is heating up. As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky prepares to meet Joe Biden at the White House, competition for Ukraine’s energy market is increasingly being framed as a battle between East and West. And as western investments into renewables vie with fossil fuel imports from Russia, the struggle for the nation’s energy supply is assuming a moral dimension reminiscent of the Cold War.

Tens of thousands of panels at Ukraine’s huge Nikopol solar farm harvest the sun’s energy for nobody. In late 2019, the Canadian owners of the farm, TIU Canada, were informed that the nearby Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant, owned by the notorious Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, would be disconnecting their farm from the power grid to make repairs. They were not aware that any such repairs were needed. Despite frantic protests the connection was severed – and a year and a half later, it has still not been restored.

Kolomoisky’s tentacles extend deep into Ukraine’s economy and politics. He controls a faction of MPs without which the current coalition would collapse, as well as the country’s most lucrative energy distributor and, previously, some of its biggest banks. He is a controversial figure who in March 2021 was banned entry to the U.S.A over his ‘significant corruption’.

The successful development of the renewable energy sector in eastern Europe would not only undermine Putin’s political influence – it would also take a wrecking ball to the Russian economy.

Kolomoisky’s greed is matched only by his fickleness. He funded Ukrainian forces fighting against Russia during the Crimean War in 2014 – but as the USA has taken a greater interest in his affairs over recent years, his allegiances have shifted east. Ukraine’s power broker now argues that the EU and Nato ‘won’t take us, whereas Russia would love to bring us into a new Warsaw Pact.’

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