International Energy Group Burisma has expanded its Board of Directors to include an expert in the field of security and strategic development. Joseph Cofer Black, a former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and Ambassador at Large for counter-terrorism recently joined the Board as an independent director at Burisma Group. Ambassador Black resigned from public service in 2005 after a 30 year career and is considered a leading expert and significant figure on U.S. and international security issues. He served in the administration of President George W. Bush and also served as a senior advisor on international affairs for U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney. According to public media reporting, Ambassador Black was a top contender for the position of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the administration of current U.S. President Donald J. Trump. At Burisma he will provide guidance with respect to the Group’s security and strategic expansion. In an exclusive interview to UKRAINIAN NEWS, Ambassador Black talks about politics and the investment climate, governmental relations and reputational risks in Ukraine.
Burisma Group stated in its official release that you would provide guidance with respect to the company’s security and strategic development. Could you specify your tasks?
I was impressed to learn that Burisma Group is the fastest-growing private gas producer in Central Europe. International projects where the Group is involved require a more thorough analysis and risk assessment, not only in terms of conventional risks – financial or political but also in terms of security. Additionally, in view of rapidly developing digital and information technologies, the Group needs to effectively deal with potential cyber-attacks and informational risks that may come about as a result of its work. My role will be to advise the Group with respect to its security practices and protocols, including on the most effective protections and programs to guard against cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, today many international companies are subject to data and other cyber-attacks that result in exposing and manipulating information; in particular false information that brings harm to global companies. I also believe my international experience in numerous countries around the world will be of use in shaping the Group’s international expansion strategy.
Who invited you to join the Board of Directors and what are your thoughts about Burisma and Ukraine?
The President of Burisma Group Nikolay Zlochevskyi asked me to join the Board of Directors. Knowing all too well the energy and security challenges Ukraine has had to manage, I am pleased to join the Board of a privately held company that has been continuously working to ensure Ukraine’s energy security. Burisma should be proud of its contributions to Ukraine’s economy through its investments in production, job creation and expansion and its tax payments to the state.
How do you assess the environment in which the company has to work in Ukraine?
Oil and gas has never been an easy industry in which to do business. It represents a strategic segment of any economy centered on a country’s natural resources. Moreover, the production of hydrocarbons can be a political issue, requiring consideration of a wide range of issues including among other things public opinion and national security. From this perspective, Ukrainian conditions are not something out of the ordinary. That said, there are specific risks associated with Ukraine including its fiscal policy, proximity of the fields to military zones, serious corruption and political uncertainty and untoward influence in commercial activities and the role of state owned enterprises. None of these challenges will be solved overnight. I look forward to advising Burisma in addressing these challenges.
In Ukraine, there have been some rumors surrounding Burisma Group, due to the comments from certain politicians and activists. What can you say? How do you plan to deal with this?
Ukraine remains the Burisma Group’s strategic market and is a key element of its business strategy. It is here in Ukraine where Burisma plans to deepen its investment bringing more jobs, increased economic strength and more revenue to the state. I believe Burisma’s economic expansion will help Ukraine’s economy and improve Ukraine’s energy security. I will do all that I can to work with leaders and decision-makers and those trying to influence them of the positive impact a privately held energy company like Burisma can have on Ukraine. In the U.S., privately held energy companies play an important and positive role in economic development in key states like Louisiana, Texas, and North and South Dakota. While elements of civil society may question the growth of some energy companies, I believe they should do so in a lawful manner and ensuring accusations are based on facts and evidence rather than rumor or innuendo.
Since 2005, you have been consulting various businesses around the globe. What are your top priorities to pursue a new market? Does the economic dimension play a key role?
When I advise companies on strategic development, economic factors play a major role as well as political and financial risk. Unfortunately many international companies assess that working in Ukraine has real reputational risk to their business success. Because of allegations of corruption, concerns about the absence of rule of law and the uneasiness associated with non-transparently motivated and false media campaigns against bona fide businesses, many U.S. and western businesses hesitate to invest in Ukraine. When these factors have primacy over economic benefits, investment flows are going to be restrained for Ukraine.