Macron’s State Reform Tsar Looks to Technology to Cut Red-Tape

France is ready to invest in artificial intelligence, blockchain and data mining to “transform” its sprawling bureaucracy instead of simply trimming budgets and jobs, its administration reform tsar said.

The 39-year old former telecoms executive whom President Emmanuel Macron has charged with reforming the public sector said he believed technology would win support from government employees and in the end produce less costly public services.

Macron himself is coming under pressure from budget watchdogs and Brussels to spell out how he plans to cut 60 billion euros ($74 billion) in public spending and 120,000 public sector jobs to fulfill pledges made in his election campaign.

Chatbots – software that can answer users’ questions with a conversational approach – or algorithms helping the taxman to target potential tax evaders, were some of the possibilities offered by technology, Thomas Cazenave told Reuters in an interview.

“The state … must not fall behind, get ‘uberized’ and shrivel up,” Cazenave said.

“The potential created by digitalization, data and artificial intelligence will help put fewer employees on some tasks, while reinvesting in others,” he added.

A 700-million-euro ($864-million) fund will help invest in IT projects over the next five years to help modernize administration in the highly centralized country and automate some activities.

‘Macron boy’

Cazenave is one of the ‘Macron boys’ whose mix of top civil service pedigree and private sector experience is being used to shake up France’s 5.5 million-strong army of government employees and cut one of the highest public spending ratios in the world.

Only two months younger than Macron, the two met over 10 years ago when they joined the highly selective corps of finance civil servants after graduating from ENA, a graduate school of public administration for the French elite.

Cazenave then became the number 2 human resources executive at telecoms firm Orange, a company which transitioned from government monopoly to globalized private champion. In 2016, Macron prefaced Cazenave’s book, “The State in Start-Up Mode.”

“Like me, the president feels very deeply that these are no longer times where public services can be reformed with small tweaks. Major transformations are needed,” Cazenave said.

Sensitive subject

However, despite frequently referring to transformation and revolution, Macron has taken a cautious approach on belt-tightening measures, with very few details given so far on where the ax will fall.

His budget minister said this month a voluntary redundancy plan could be on the cards, but did not elaborate. More details are expected to be announced in March/April but legislation is not expected before early 2019.

Cazenave said taking time to consult employees was necessary to get government employees on board and to review which public services still need to be ran by government, and which can be outsourced or even abandoned.

He also said previous spending cut plans, such as former conservative leader Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision not to fill one in two vacancies left by retiring baby-boomers had failed to curb spending because the state’s remit had not been changed.

Outsourcing some public services is currently being considered, he said, but the example of British outsourcing firm Carillion’s collapse showed it could not be replicated everywhere.

“There is no place for ideology on the outsourcing debate, in one way or another. The private sector doesn’t have a definitive superiority to the public sector,” he said.

 

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Trump Denounces Women Who Accused Him of Sex Abuse

U.S. President Donald Trump Tuesday denounced Rachel Crooks, one of 19 women who have accused Trump of sexual assault, and the Washington Post, for publishing an article about her allegations.

The Post story offers her detailed account of how Trump allegedly forcibly kissed the then 22-year-old on January 11, 2006 while the two were waiting for an elevator in Trump Tower in New York. The article also describes how nothing has come of the allegations from her and the other women, despite repeating her story, which she first described to The New York Times several months prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Like other allegations, Trump has denied them — as he did Tuesday on Twitter.

“A woman I don’t know and, to the best of my knowledge, never met, is on the FRONT PAGE of the Fake News Washington Post saying I kissed her (for two minutes yet) in the lobby of Trump Tower 12 years ago. Never happened! Who would do this in a public space with live security……

 

…cameras running. Another False Accusation. Why doesn’t @washingtonpost report the story of the women taking money to make up stories about me? One had her home mortgage paid off. Only @FoxNews so reported …doesn’t fit the Mainstream Media narrative.”

In response to the Republican president’s tweets, Crooks, who is running as a Democrat for a seat in the Ohio State House of Representatives, challenged Trump to release video of their alleged encounter.

“Please, by all means, share the footage from the hallway outside the 24th floor residential elevator bank on the morning of January 11, 2006. Let’s clear this up for everyone. It’s liars like you in politics that have prompted me to run for office myself.”

Most of the sex abuse accusations from the other women were made after Trump began campaigning for president in 2015, describing experiences spanning five decades.

Trump has consistently denied the allegations, calling them “total fabrications” and tweeting once that “Nobody has more respect for women than me.”

 

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Trump Again Blames Obama for Russia Meddling Response

U.S. President Donald Trump is again blaming former President Barack Obama for mishandling Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?” Trump said on Twitter Monday. The attack on his predecessor was the latest in a series of presidential tweets.

It’s been a common complaint from Trump, who has alternately downplayed the extent of Russian interference and blamed his predecessor for failing to stop it.

In December 2016, Obama issued sanctions against nine Russian individuals and entities for election meddling and harassing U.S. diplomats in Moscow, including Russia’s GRU and FSB intelligence services. Obama also ordered 35 Russian government officials in Washington and San Francisco to leave the country for “acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status and consular activities” and ordered the closure of two waterfront compounds the administration said were used for Russian intelligence activities.

Earlier Monday, the Kremlin denied involvement in election meddling. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the allegations are baseless. 

The comments come days after U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities with conducting an illegal “information warfare” campaign to disrupt the election to benefit Trump.

Mueller’s indictment of the Russian interests contended that the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based social media company with Kremlin ties, 12 of its employees, and its financial backer orchestrated the effort.

The 37-page charging document alleges the Russian conspirators sought to coordinate their effort with Trump campaign associates, but it does not accuse anyone on the Trump campaign of colluding with the Russians.

Trump has long insisted his campaign did not collude with Russia, even as the U.S. intelligence community, and now Mueller, have concluded that Russia conducted a wide campaign to meddle in the election to help Trump win.

The indictment marks the first time Mueller’s office has brought charges against Russians and Russian entities. 

Mueller’s sprawling investigation has led to the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates on money laundering charges in connection with their lobbying efforts in Ukraine that predates Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Former National Security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials and are cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

In addition to investigating Russian meddling in the election, Mueller is probing whether Trump has in several ways obstructed justice to undermine the investigation, including his firing of former FBI director James Comey, who was leading the agency’s Russia probe at the time Trump ousted him. Mueller, over Trump’s objections, was then appointed to take over the Russia probe.

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Trump Again Blames Obama for Russia Meddling Response

U.S. President Donald Trump is again blaming former President Barack Obama for mishandling Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?” Trump said on Twitter Monday. The attack on his predecessor was the latest in a series of presidential tweets.

It’s been a common complaint from Trump, who has alternately downplayed the extent of Russian interference and blamed his predecessor for failing to stop it.

In December 2016, Obama issued sanctions against nine Russian individuals and entities for election meddling and harassing U.S. diplomats in Moscow, including Russia’s GRU and FSB intelligence services. Obama also ordered 35 Russian government officials in Washington and San Francisco to leave the country for “acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status and consular activities” and ordered the closure of two waterfront compounds the administration said were used for Russian intelligence activities.

Earlier Monday, the Kremlin denied involvement in election meddling. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the allegations are baseless. 

The comments come days after U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities with conducting an illegal “information warfare” campaign to disrupt the election to benefit Trump.

Mueller’s indictment of the Russian interests contended that the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based social media company with Kremlin ties, 12 of its employees, and its financial backer orchestrated the effort.

The 37-page charging document alleges the Russian conspirators sought to coordinate their effort with Trump campaign associates, but it does not accuse anyone on the Trump campaign of colluding with the Russians.

Trump has long insisted his campaign did not collude with Russia, even as the U.S. intelligence community, and now Mueller, have concluded that Russia conducted a wide campaign to meddle in the election to help Trump win.

The indictment marks the first time Mueller’s office has brought charges against Russians and Russian entities. 

Mueller’s sprawling investigation has led to the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates on money laundering charges in connection with their lobbying efforts in Ukraine that predates Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Former National Security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials and are cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

In addition to investigating Russian meddling in the election, Mueller is probing whether Trump has in several ways obstructed justice to undermine the investigation, including his firing of former FBI director James Comey, who was leading the agency’s Russia probe at the time Trump ousted him. Mueller, over Trump’s objections, was then appointed to take over the Russia probe.

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Trump Endorses Romney in Run for US Senate Seat in Utah

President Donald Trump on Monday endorsed former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s run for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah, despite Romney often being critical of Trump.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Romney excoriated Trump as a “fraud” who was “playing the American public for suckers.” Trump responded that Romney had “choked like a dog” in his 2012 campaign against President Barack Obama.

Trump said on Twitter that Romney “will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!” Romney announced Friday he would run to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch.

Romney thanked Trump for the endorsement in a Tweet posted soon after the president’s statement.

“I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah,” Romney said.

Despite Romney’s prior criticism, after Trump won the presidency in November 2016, he briefly considered picking Romney as secretary of state.

Republicans hold 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats but many legislative issues require getting the support of 60 senators.

Trump has repeatedly said that he needs more Republicans elected during the 2018 congressional elections to win approval of more of his agenda.

Romney said last week he generally approved of Trump’s agenda, but would not hesitate to call out the president if needed.

“I’m with the president’s domestic policy agenda of low taxes, low regulation, smaller government, pushing back against the bureaucrats,” Romney said. “I’m not always with the president on what he might say or do, and if that happens I’ll call’em like I see’em, the way I have in the past.”

Trump had lobbied Hatch to run for re-election in 2018, in what was viewed as an effort to prevent Romney from getting into the Senate. Trump and Romney spoke in January after Hatch announced his retirement, a White House official said.

Romney, the son of former Michigan Governor George Romney, helped found the buyout firm Bain Capital and gained prominence after stepping in to lead the organizing committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal. He served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

Romney first sought the presidency in 2008 but lost the Republican nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain. Four years later, Romney won the party’s nomination but was defeated by incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama.

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Trump Endorses Romney in Run for US Senate Seat in Utah

President Donald Trump on Monday endorsed former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s run for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah, despite Romney often being critical of Trump.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Romney excoriated Trump as a “fraud” who was “playing the American public for suckers.” Trump responded that Romney had “choked like a dog” in his 2012 campaign against President Barack Obama.

Trump said on Twitter that Romney “will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!” Romney announced Friday he would run to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch.

Romney thanked Trump for the endorsement in a Tweet posted soon after the president’s statement.

“I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah,” Romney said.

Despite Romney’s prior criticism, after Trump won the presidency in November 2016, he briefly considered picking Romney as secretary of state.

Republicans hold 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats but many legislative issues require getting the support of 60 senators.

Trump has repeatedly said that he needs more Republicans elected during the 2018 congressional elections to win approval of more of his agenda.

Romney said last week he generally approved of Trump’s agenda, but would not hesitate to call out the president if needed.

“I’m with the president’s domestic policy agenda of low taxes, low regulation, smaller government, pushing back against the bureaucrats,” Romney said. “I’m not always with the president on what he might say or do, and if that happens I’ll call’em like I see’em, the way I have in the past.”

Trump had lobbied Hatch to run for re-election in 2018, in what was viewed as an effort to prevent Romney from getting into the Senate. Trump and Romney spoke in January after Hatch announced his retirement, a White House official said.

Romney, the son of former Michigan Governor George Romney, helped found the buyout firm Bain Capital and gained prominence after stepping in to lead the organizing committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal. He served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

Romney first sought the presidency in 2008 but lost the Republican nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain. Four years later, Romney won the party’s nomination but was defeated by incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama.

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Healthiest Presidents Ever? New Compilation Doesn’t Place Trump Among Fittest  

Despite Donald Trump’s recent official clean bill of health and an assertion from his personal physician that he would be the “healthiest president ever,” the current officeholder ranks 26 out of 44 U.S. presidents, according to a new assessment released to coincide with Presidents Day. 

At the top of the list of the overall health rankings is Rutherford B. Hayes, president from 1877 to 1881, who “had a healthy diet, was not obese and abstained from any tobacco use or alcohol abuse,” according to the report, published on a website that provides consumers with information about Medicare supplemental insurance policies. 

Runner-up is Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who left office at the relatively young age of 55. But Obama’s base score was lower than Hayes’ because of Obama’s “smoking and poor sleep habits,” according to the ranking.

Obama and Trump are the only two presidents “to not lose a point for health issues,” but the intensively competitive Trump may be chagrined to know he merits only a “C” compared to Obama’s “A” health grade. 

“I think he should probably accept that with good grace,” Iowa State University history professor Stacy Cordery told VOA News.

“Former President Obama was significantly younger than President Trump when he took office. Even though President Obama smoked for a big part of his life and President Trump does not, Obama is much more physically active.” 

Trump also totally abstains from alcohol, while his meal choices have been known to lean toward fast-food fare. 

Cordery says “any armchair physician” can observe Trump’s borderline obesity and his high stress level in a White House deemed chaotic. 

Only two presidents received an “F” health grade: William Taft (who tipped the scales at around 155 kilograms or  341 pounds), and at the bottom of the list, Grover Cleveland, due to a “very unhealthy diet, a complete lack of physical exercise and a penchant for both tobacco and alcohol abuse.” 

Cleveland, regarded as the second-heaviest president and the only one to serve a pair of nonconsecutive terms, also covered up a surgery for oral cancer at the beginning of his second presidency. 

Somewhat surprisingly, William Henry Harrison, earned a B grade and is considered the 26th healthiest president, despite serving only 32 days in the White House. After delivering the longest inaugural address recorded — one hour and 45 minutes — on a bitterly cold morning of March 4, 1841, the new president immediately took to bed with a bad cold that developed into a fatal case of pneumonia.

“Harrison’s premature death is certainly notable and was very severe (he received a large13-point deduction in health score for his pneumonia and subsequent complications), but our rankings took into account other factors such as diet,” according to study organizer Ryan Shevin of TZ Health Media, a division of Tranzact, which funded the report.

Some medical professionals and others may question how it can be fair to compare early presidents to more recent leaders, considering the vast improvements in medicine (as well as the once swampy climes of malarial Washington, D.C.) since the early days of the United States.

Founding father George Washington suffered from a long list of ailments, including malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, dysentery, boils, tooth loss, hearing loss, infertility, tonsillitis complications, pneumonia, inflammation of the windpipe, throat infection and depression during illnesses.

“The overall quality of medicine/health care has clearly improved over time, but attempting to normalize or adjust for these differences would be a difficult task,” Shevin told VOA, explaining the study “chose a tally of health issues, rather than eliminating historically contextual illnesses such as smallpox.”

Relying on “bits and pieces in the archives” for most presidents “do not and cannot make a complete picture,” said Cordery, who has authored two books about President Theodore Roosevelt (who earns a “D” grade as the 36th healthiest president). “Anything like this where you’re trying to diagnose back in history is partly guesswork.”

The rankings were compiled after emailed answers were received from 27 presidential historians and doctors who were given general questions but not asked to rank the presidents, according to Shevin.

Tranzact researchers then considered a number of leading health indicators, including diet, exercise habits and sleep data, and tallied more than 58 health conditions that ultimately put Hayes on top and Cleveland at the bottom. 

While some may regard the rankings as subjective and thus open to argument, there is one common point of agreement among the historians and physicians: Being president of the United States is not good for one’s health.

Robert Watson, a professor of American studies at Lynn University, noted: “It is often said that a president ages at twice the normal rate while in office” due to holding “the most demanding office imaginable.” 

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Healthiest Presidents Ever? New Compilation Doesn’t Place Trump Among Fittest  

Despite Donald Trump’s recent official clean bill of health and an assertion from his personal physician that he would be the “healthiest president ever,” the current officeholder ranks 26 out of 44 U.S. presidents, according to a new assessment released to coincide with Presidents Day. 

At the top of the list of the overall health rankings is Rutherford B. Hayes, president from 1877 to 1881, who “had a healthy diet, was not obese and abstained from any tobacco use or alcohol abuse,” according to the report, published on a website that provides consumers with information about Medicare supplemental insurance policies. 

Runner-up is Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who left office at the relatively young age of 55. But Obama’s base score was lower than Hayes’ because of Obama’s “smoking and poor sleep habits,” according to the ranking.

Obama and Trump are the only two presidents “to not lose a point for health issues,” but the intensively competitive Trump may be chagrined to know he merits only a “C” compared to Obama’s “A” health grade. 

“I think he should probably accept that with good grace,” Iowa State University history professor Stacy Cordery told VOA News.

“Former President Obama was significantly younger than President Trump when he took office. Even though President Obama smoked for a big part of his life and President Trump does not, Obama is much more physically active.” 

Trump also totally abstains from alcohol, while his meal choices have been known to lean toward fast-food fare. 

Cordery says “any armchair physician” can observe Trump’s borderline obesity and his high stress level in a White House deemed chaotic. 

Only two presidents received an “F” health grade: William Taft (who tipped the scales at around 155 kilograms or  341 pounds), and at the bottom of the list, Grover Cleveland, due to a “very unhealthy diet, a complete lack of physical exercise and a penchant for both tobacco and alcohol abuse.” 

Cleveland, regarded as the second-heaviest president and the only one to serve a pair of nonconsecutive terms, also covered up a surgery for oral cancer at the beginning of his second presidency. 

Somewhat surprisingly, William Henry Harrison, earned a B grade and is considered the 26th healthiest president, despite serving only 32 days in the White House. After delivering the longest inaugural address recorded — one hour and 45 minutes — on a bitterly cold morning of March 4, 1841, the new president immediately took to bed with a bad cold that developed into a fatal case of pneumonia.

“Harrison’s premature death is certainly notable and was very severe (he received a large13-point deduction in health score for his pneumonia and subsequent complications), but our rankings took into account other factors such as diet,” according to study organizer Ryan Shevin of TZ Health Media, a division of Tranzact, which funded the report.

Some medical professionals and others may question how it can be fair to compare early presidents to more recent leaders, considering the vast improvements in medicine (as well as the once swampy climes of malarial Washington, D.C.) since the early days of the United States.

Founding father George Washington suffered from a long list of ailments, including malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, dysentery, boils, tooth loss, hearing loss, infertility, tonsillitis complications, pneumonia, inflammation of the windpipe, throat infection and depression during illnesses.

“The overall quality of medicine/health care has clearly improved over time, but attempting to normalize or adjust for these differences would be a difficult task,” Shevin told VOA, explaining the study “chose a tally of health issues, rather than eliminating historically contextual illnesses such as smallpox.”

Relying on “bits and pieces in the archives” for most presidents “do not and cannot make a complete picture,” said Cordery, who has authored two books about President Theodore Roosevelt (who earns a “D” grade as the 36th healthiest president). “Anything like this where you’re trying to diagnose back in history is partly guesswork.”

The rankings were compiled after emailed answers were received from 27 presidential historians and doctors who were given general questions but not asked to rank the presidents, according to Shevin.

Tranzact researchers then considered a number of leading health indicators, including diet, exercise habits and sleep data, and tallied more than 58 health conditions that ultimately put Hayes on top and Cleveland at the bottom. 

While some may regard the rankings as subjective and thus open to argument, there is one common point of agreement among the historians and physicians: Being president of the United States is not good for one’s health.

Robert Watson, a professor of American studies at Lynn University, noted: “It is often said that a president ages at twice the normal rate while in office” due to holding “the most demanding office imaginable.” 

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How US Coal Deal Warms Ukraine’s Ties With Trump

For the first time in Ukraine’s history, U.S. anthracite is helping to keep the lights on and the heating going this winter following a deal that has also helped to warm Kyiv’s relations with President Donald Trump.

The Ukrainian state-owned company that imported the coal told Reuters that the deal made commercial sense. But it was also politically expedient, according to a person involved in the talks on the agreement and power industry insiders.

On Trump’s side it provided much-needed orders for a coal-producing region of the United States which was a vital constituency in his 2016 presidential election victory.

On the Ukrainian side the deal helped to win favor with the White House, whose support Kyiv needs in its conflict with Russia, as well as opening up a new source of coal at a time when its traditional supplies are disrupted.

Trump’s campaign call to improve relations with the Kremlin alarmed the pro-Western leadership in Ukraine, which lost Crimea to Russia in 2014 and is still fighting pro-Moscow separatists.

However, things looked up when President Petro Poroshenko visited the White House on June 20 last year.

“The meeting with Trump was a key point, a milestone,” a Ukrainian government source told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

The Americans had set particular store by supplying coal to Ukraine. 

“I felt that for them it is important,” said the source, who was present at the talks that also included a session with Vice President Mike Pence.

Despite Trump’s incentives, U.S. utilities are shutting coal-fired plants and shifting to gas, wind and solar power.

Ailing U.S. mining companies are therefore boosting exports to Asia and seeking new buyers among eastern European countries trying to diversify from Russian supplies.

Trump, who championed U.S. coal producers on the campaign trail, pressed the message after meeting Poroshenko. 

“Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons right now,” he said in a speech nine days later. “We want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who need it.”

The deal with Kyiv was sealed the following month, after which U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said: “As promised during the campaign, President Trump is unshackling American energy with each day on the job.”

The deal helped to “bolster a key strategic partner against regional pressures that seek to undermine U.S. interests,” Ross added, referring to past Russian attempts to restrict natural gas flows to its western neighbors.

A matter of necessity

Ukraine was once a major producer of anthracite, a coal used in power generation, but it has faced a shortage in recent winters as it lost control of almost all its mines in eastern areas to the separatists.

Along with South Africa, Ukrainian-owned mines in Russia have been the main source of anthracite imports but this is fraught with uncertainty. In the past Moscow has cut off gas supplies to the country over disputes with Kyiv, while the Ukrainian government considered forbidding anthracite imports from Russia in 2017 although no ban has yet been imposed.

Overall anthracite imports shot up to 3.05 million tons in the first 11 months of 2017 from just 0.05 million in all of 2013 — the year before the rebellion erupted.

Neighboring Poland, which Trump visited in July, is also turning increasingly to U.S. coal. Its imports from the United States jumped five-fold last year to 839,000 tons, data from the state-run ARP agency showed.

In July Ukrainian state-owned energy company Centrenergo announced the deal with U.S. company Xcoal for the supply of up to 700,000 tons of anthracite.

Centrenergo initially said it would pay $113 per ton for the first shipment, a price industry experts and traders told Reuters was expensive compared with alternatives.

However, chief executive Oleg Kozemko said the cost varied according to the quality of the coal delivered, so Centrenergo had paid around $100 per ton on average for the 410,000 tons supplied by the end of 2017.

Kozemko said in an interview that the U.S. deal was Centrenergo’s only viable option after three tenders it launched earlier last year had failed.

“The idea to sign a contract with Xcoal was a matter of necessity,” he said. “We had agreements but they didn’t work out, because the pricing that they discussed with us and that we signed an agreement on didn’t work out.”

Data on the state tenders registry and documents seen by Reuters show that two of the tenders failed due to a lack of bids, while the results of the third were cancelled.

If that contract had worked out, Centrenergo would have paid around $96 per ton, according to Reuters calculations based on the exchange rate at the time of the tender in April.

Energy expert Andriy Gerus told Reuters the Xcoal deal “probably helps Ukraine to build some good political connections with the USA and that is quite important right now.”

 

Mutual desire 

The anthracite for Centrenergo is mined in Pennsylvania, which backed Trump in 2016. This marked the first time a Republican presidential candidate had won the state since 1988, and followed Trump’s pledge to reverse the coal industry’s history of plant closures and lay-offs in recent years.

Centrenergo says it and Xcoal agreed the contract independently of their governments and without any political pressure. However, Kozemko said: “If talks between the heads of our countries helped in this, then we can only say thank you… It was a mutual desire.”

For the Ukrainian authorities, the diplomatic benefit is clear. When the first shipment of U.S. anthracite arrived in September, Poroshenko tweeted a photo of himself shaking hands with Trump in Washington. 

“As agreed with @realDonaldTrump, first American coal has reached Ukraine,” he wrote.

Poroshenko’s press service said the deal “is an exact example of when the friendly and warm atmosphere of one conversation helps strengthen the foundations of a strategic partnership in the interests of both sides for the future.”

The Washington meeting also discussed U.S.-Ukrainian military and technical cooperation. Soon after, the Trump administration said it was considering supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine to counter the Russian-backed separatists.

In late December the U.S. State Department announced that the provision of “enhanced defensive capabilities” had been approved.

Kozemko said the Xcoal deal was likely to be only the beginning of Centrenergo’s trade relations with the United States as it is currently holding talks on supplies of bituminous coal, a poorer quality variety.

“It’s good that we studied the U.S. market because we had never looked at it before. We see big prospects for bituminous coal,” he said, adding that other Ukrainian firms were thinking similarly. “We showed how to bring coal from America and they are following our lead.”

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