How the EU destroys Ukraine’s forests

by Sergei Kirichuk

In 2015 Ukraine introduced a 10-year moratorium on the export of unprocessed timber. The decision was immediately met by harsh criticism from the EU officials. The EU argues the ban on exporting roundwood from Ukraine violates the trade part of the Association Agreement (signed by Ukraine).

And after the enormous pressure and blackmailing, the EU finally reached its aim, while caring not so much about Ukraine’s nature. On November 24, the President of The European Commission Jan-Claude Juncker stated that in coming weeks Ukraine is set to cancel the timber export ban and president Poroshenko is ready to submit the corresponding bill to the parliament. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, linked fulfillment of this condition will allow EU to release EUR 600 million macro-financial assistance.

A quite disturbing fact is that the decision (though still not approved by the Parliament) was made on the background of the recent statements like: ‘Ukrainian forests are on the verge of extinction’, as reported UaToday (i):

“The forests are rapidly vanishing. The local poachers are responsible for the illegal clearance. Every year they cut down around 300 000 hectares of these trees. Locals say, dozens of trucks transport the wood every day. Crooked dealers earn millions of dollars selling the lumber abroad. If nothing is done, the Carpathian forest could potentially disappear in the next ten years. The smugglers are using various tactics to cover their tracks. For example, they mark young trees as dead-wood in the documents. Others work without any permission.”

And now we see that “after consulting with the European colleagues, the Ukrainian lawmakers offered to cancel the prohibition law in three years. Their decision was immediately criticized by the local citizens and activists. They think Europe is interested in buying cheap Carpathian wood while preserving their own forests. In fact, several European states encourage their private companies to purchase wood from Ukraine. Hungary, Romania, Austria and Slovakia offer financial aid to those interested in importing the lumber from Ukraine.”

We reported earlier this year on the looming disaster caused by illegal logging in Ukraine that can be enforced by the EU demands to lift the ban and legalize deforestation (ii):
“Since 2014 we have in Ukraine a mass deforestation. The entire forests and parks are being eliminated, causing local environmental disasters. However, until now the logging has been mostly illegal. But now the EU is demanding from Ukraine to lift the ban on exporting timber/wood as a condition of obtaining the next EU macrofinancial aid, reminding Kiev that this is a term of the Euroassociation agreement, – reports Ukrainian Minister of economic development and trade.

Currently, even the polluted radioactive forests of the Chernobyl zone are being cut: “But logging in a post-apocalyptic forest would pose a number of health concerns. Trees, like moss, absorb radiation from the subsoil. Also, clear-cutting churns up soil, stirring radioactive dust and accelerating erosion,” reports New York Times.

Not to mention the Carpathians, which have turned into ‘devastated lands’ in the two years since Maidan. “The total devastation of protected forests in the Carpathians has been underway in recent years,” notes Censor Net, providing photographic evidence of the environmental destruction that’s taking place.

As even the Unian reports: “There is a struggle for the checkpoint Tisa [West border], where there is a major flow of smuggled goods. Through this checkpoint the expensive timber is exported from Ukraine, which is illegally logged in the national parks across the Carpathians.” Meanwhile, despite an official ban on exporting timber, dozens of trains with illegally logged wood daily cross Ukrainian west border – going to the EU.

So, the EU demand to lift the ban on exporting timber is just a demand to legalize the practice of grabbing natural resources.”

As wrote Ukrainian media Strana.ua in March 2016: “Illegal loggers are illegally trafficking abroad entire trains of fir trees, earning millions of dollars. According to local residents, deforestation has dramatically intensified over the past two years.

The scale of the disaster can be seen in shocking photos of bird’s eye views of cleared mountain slopes which have been were published on the Internet. One of these photos is the southern slope of the Popadia Mountain at the junction of the Zakarpattia and Ivano-Frankivsk regions of the country, where logging is strictly prohibited by law.

Before the Maidan revolution of 2013, trees were growing quite densely. Now, less than three years later, a huge bare spots have formed. The green Carpathian Mountains are gradually turning into a desert. According to the deputy Yuri Gnepa of the Zakarpattia Regional Council, in the Mizhgirya district of Zakarpattia region, 40,000 cubic meters of wood were being cut down earlier. Now it is about 100,000.”(iii)

“Forest workers, say locals, are self-financed and are paid very poor prices for their wood. They cut down fine-quality wood and sell it to intermediaries, who then ship the wood to the West and make tens of thousands of dollars per week.”

Despite still acting ban, we can see that illegal logging still goes on and Ukrainian timber is being exported to the EU countries. In august 2016, Ukrainian Prosecution office reported on detecting a Slovakian site where the illegally cut Carpathian timber was stored – 6000 m3 or 7000 trees(iv).

We are witnessing, therefore, a typical continuation of the ‘old good’ colonialist policy: European governments and companies press the Third World countries (like Ukraine de facto) demanding to allow them to grab the natural resources in exchange for loans that should be repaid anyway.

i http://uatoday.tv/crime/ukraine-s-forests-on-the-verge-of-extinction-630980.html

ii https://off-guardian.org/2016/05/18/the-eu-and-the-deforestation-of-ukraine/

iii http://strana.ua/articles/special/6089-cherez-paru-let-karpaty-mogut-sovsem-oblyset.html

iv http://obozrevatel.com/crime/40752-matios-v-slovakii-nashli-mesto-gde-hranitsya-vyivezennyij-iz-ukrainyi-les.htm

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