>> Artem Volynets, the CEO of AIM-listed Chaarat Gold, had to deal wtih war and a coup in 2020, on top of the global pandemic.
JUNE 16 2021 (The Bulletin) — A global pandemic meant a tough 2020 for most people but for Artem Volynets, the CEO of AIM-listed gold miner Chaarat Gold, it was just one issue that he had to deal with. He also had to navigate a war and a coup.
“Yes, it was a complicated time,” he told The Bulletin over lunch in central London, flashing a pearl-white, relaxed, smile.
“But in many ways it made us stronger as a company.”
Chaarat Gold is the owner of the Kapan gold mine in southeast Armenia and two gold concessions in Kyrgyzstan, Tulkubash and Kyzyltash. In 2020, Armenia lost a war to Azerbaijan for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and in Kyrgyzstan, a coup in October overthrew the government.
Volynets said that a third of his 1,000-person workforce at the Soviet-era Kapan gold mine was called up for active duty.
“Even so, if anything our reputation in the region was strengthened by the war,” he said. “We were the ones paying the taxes, keeping production going and jobs open.”
Chaarat Gold bought the Kapan mine from Russia’s Polymetal in 2019 for $55m, a deal that Volynets said had proved to be good value.
He dodged discussing criticism of Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan for allegedly dragging his feet over clearing protesters who have blocked access to another foreign-owned gold mine at Amulsar, but he was keen to discuss the expropriation in Kyrgyzstan of the Kumtor gold mine, the biggest in the country, from its Toronto-based owners, Centerra Gold.
Western investors in Bishkek have now described Kyrgyzstan as an “investment pariah” but Volynets was more circumspect.
“It’s very much an isolated incident that has to do with one particular foreign investor and one particular project,” he said. “We have been assured that we have no problems.”
Still, the noise around the expropriation of Kumtor has made life more difficult for Volynets and Chaarat Gold. Last month it said that raising finance for its Tulkubash project had slowed and that its first gold production was now delayed by a year to the second half of 2023.
In 2018, Chaarat Gold had offered to buy Kumtor, but Centerra Gold had turned down the offer.
“We’re not interested in it any more but we are still looking around at other FSU projects,” Volynets said.
— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021