EU ‘concerned’ by Ukraine sacking of energy firm chief

A file photo dated 13 June 2013 showing CEO of Ukrainian state gas and oil company Naftogaz Andriy Kobolev during a press conference in Naftogaz headquarters in Kyiv, Ukraine. [Sergei Chirikov/EPA/EFE]

The European Union has “serious concerns” over the Ukrainian government’s decision to dismiss the reform-minded head of state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz, a spokesman said Friday (30 April).

Ukraine’s cabinet on Wednesday sacked Naftogaz chief Andriy Kobolev, whose moves toward transparency won him support among Western investors, and suspended all members of the company’s supervisory board.

EU spokesman Peter Stano said Brussels had “serious concerns” over the move.

“We are calling upon the leadership of Ukraine to ensure that the management decisions at state owned enterprises are taken in full accordance with basic tenets of recognised corporate governance standards,” he said.

Ukraine’s government said that Kobolev — well-known for leading Naftogaz to victory in a legal battle with Russian energy giant Gazprom — was dismissed after the company posted losses of 19.0 billion hryvnia ($685 million) in 2020.

Naftogaz denounced the decision, describing it as politically motivated, and argued that the company provided more than $5 billion to the state budget last year.

Kobolev helped wean Ukraine off its dependence on Russian gas after Moscow in 2014 seized Crimea and war broke out in eastern Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists.

The US — which backs Ukraine alongside the EU in its festering standoff with Russia — also criticised the decision to remove Kobolev, saying it showed “disregard for fair and transparent corporate governance practices”.

Ukraine is deeply dependent on international loans, including from the International Monetary Fund, which has handed Kiev cash on the condition it will implement reforms to wipe out corruption.

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