Ukraine: the invasion of capital

Last week, Ukraine’s foreign private creditors agreed to the country’s request for a two-year freeze on payments on about $20bn of foreign debt.  This would enable Ukraine to avoid defaulting on its overseas borrowings.  Unlike other ‘emerging economies’ in debt distress, it seems that foreign bondholders are happy to help Ukraine out – if only for two years.  The move will save Ukraine $6bn over the period, helping to reduce pressure on central bank reserves, which slid by 28 per cent year-to-date, despite significant foreign aid.

Ukraine’s economy is, not surprisingly, in a desperate state. Real GDP is projected to decline by more than 30% in 2022 and the unemployment rate is at 35% (Constantinescu et al. 2022, Blinov and Djankov 2022, National Bank of Ukraine 2022). “We are grateful for the private sector support of our proposal in such terrible times for our country,” responded Yuriy Butsa, Ukraine’s deputy finance minister, “I’d like to emphasise that the support we’ve received during this transaction is hard to underestimate . . . We will stay fully engaged with the investment community further on and hope for their involvement in the financing of the rebuilding of our country after we win the war,” Butsa said.

Here Butsa reveals the price to pay for this limited largesse by foreign creditors.: the accelerating demand of foreign multi-nationals and governments to take control of Ukraine resources and bring them under the control of foreign capital without any restrictions and limitations.

In a past post, I had outlined the plan to privatise and hand over the vast agricultural resources of Ukraine to foreign multi-nationals. And for several years now, a series of reports by the Oakland Institute economic observatory has documented the takeover of foreign capital.  Much of what is below comes from Oakland.

Post-Soviet Ukraine, with its 32 million arable hectares of rich and fertile black soil (known as “cernozëm”), has the equivalent of one-third of all existing agricultural land in the European Union.  The “breadbasket of Europe,” as it is called, had an annual production of 64 million tons of grain and seeds, among the world’s largest producers of barley, wheat and sunflower oil (for the latter, Ukraine produces about 30 percent of the world total). 

As I explained in my previous post, the planned takeover of Ukraine’s resources partly provoked the conflict: the semi-civil war, the Maidan revolt and the annexation of Crimea by Russia.  As the Oakland Institute has outlined, to limit unrestrained privatization, a moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners had been imposed in 2001. Since then, the repeal of this rule has been a main goal of Western institutions. As early as 2013, for instance, the World Bank provided an $89 million loan for the development of a deed and land title program needed for the commercialization of state-owned and cooperative land. In the words of a 2019 World Bank paper the aim was an “accelerating of private investment in agriculture.” That agreement, denounced at the time by Russia as a backdoor to facilitating the entry of Western multinationals, includes the promotion of “modern agricultural production … including the use of biotechnologies,” an apparent opening towards GMO crops on Ukrainian fields.

Despite the moratorium on land sales to foreigners, by 2016, ten multinational agricultural corporations had already come to control 2.8 million hectares of land. Today, some estimates speak of 3.4 million hectares in the hands of foreign companies and Ukrainian companies with foreign funds as shareholders. Other estimates are as high as 6 million hectares. The moratorium on sales, which the US State Department, IMF and World Bank had repeatedly called to be removed, was finally repealed by the Zelensky government in 2020, ahead of a final referendum on the issue scheduled for 2024.  

Now with war grinding on, Western governments and corporations are stepping up their plans to incorporate Ukraine and its resources into the capitalist economies of the West.On July 4 and 5, 2022, top officials from the US, EU, Britain, Japan, and South Korea met in Switzerland for a so-called “Ukraine Recovery Conference.”

The URC’s agenda was explicitly focused on imposing political changes on the country – namely, strengthening the market economy“, “decentralization, privatization, reform of state-owned enterprises, land reform, state administration reform,” and “Euro-Atlantic integration.”  The agenda was really a follow-up to the 2018 Ukraine Reform Conference which had emphasized the importance of privatizing most of Ukraine’s remaining public sector, stating that the “ultimate goal of the reform is to sell state-owned enterprises to private investors”, along with calls for more “privatization, deregulation, energy reform, tax and customs reform.” Lamenting that the “government is Ukraine’s largest asset holder,” the report stated, “Reform in privatization and SOEs has been long awaited, as this sector of the Ukrainian economy has remained largely unchanged since 1991.

The irony is that the 2018 URC plans were opposed by most Ukrainians.  A public opinion poll found that just 12.4% supported privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOE), whereas 49.9% opposed it. (An additional 12% were indifferent, whereas 25.7% had no answer.)

However, war can make all the difference. In June 2020, the IMF approved an 18-month, $5 billion loan program with Ukraine. In return, the Ukraine government lift[ed] the 19-year moratorium on the sale of state-owned agricultural lands, after sustained pressure from international finance institutions.. Olena Borodina with the Ukrainian Rural Development Network commented that, “the agribusiness interests and oligarchs will be the primary beneficiaries of such reform…[This] will only further marginalize smallholder farmers and risks severing them from their most valuable resource.”

And now July’s URC has re-emphasised its plans to take over the Ukraine economy for capital, with the full endorsement of Zelensky government. At the conclusion of the meeting, all governments and institutions present endorsed a joint statement called the Lugano Declaration. This declaration was supplemented by a “National Recovery Plan,” which was in turn prepared by a “National Recovery Council” established by the Ukrainian government.

This plan advocated for an array of pro-capital measures, including “privatization of non critical enterprises” and “finalization of corporatization of SOEs” (state-owned enterprises) – identifying as an example the selling off of Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear energy company EnergoAtom. In order to “attract private capital into banking system,” the proposal likewise called for the “privatization of SOBs” (state-owned banks).  Seeking to increase “private investment and boost nationwide entrepreneurship,” the National Recovery Plan urged significant “deregulation” and proposed the creation of “‘catalyst projects’ to unlock private investment into priority sectors.”

In an explicit call for slashing labour protections, the document attacked the remaining pro-worker laws in Ukraine, some of which are a holdover of the Soviet era. The National Recovery Plan complained of “outdated labor legislation leading to complicated hiring and firing process, regulation of overtime, etc.” As an example of this supposed “outdated labor legislation,” the Western-backed plan lamented that workers in Ukraine with one year of experience are granted a nine-week “notice period for redundancy dismissal,” compared to just four weeks in Poland and South Korea.

In March 2022, the Ukrainian parliament adopted emergency legislation allowing employers to suspend collective agreements. Then in May, it passed a permanent reform package effectively exempting the vast majority of Ukrainian workers (those at businesses with fewer than 200 employees) from Ukrainian labor law.  Documents leaked in 2021 showed that the British government coached Ukrainian officials on how to convince a recalcitrant public to give up workers’ rights and implement anti-union policies. Training materials lamented that popular opinion towards the proposed reforms was overwhelmingly negative, but provided messaging strategies to mislead Ukrainians into supporting them.

While workers’ rights are to be removed in the ‘new Ukraine’, in contrast the National Recovery Plan aims to help corporations and the wealthy by lowering taxes.  The plan complained that 40% of Ukraine’s GDP came from tax revenue, calling this a “rather high tax burden” compared to its model example of South Korea. It thus called to “transform tax service,” and “review potential for decreasing the share of tax revenue in GDP.” In the name of “EU integration and access to markets,” it likewise proposed “removal of tariffs and non-tariff non-technical barriers for all Ukrainian goods,” while simultaneously calling to “facilitate FDI [foreign direct investment] attraction to bring the largest international companies to Ukraine,” with “special investment incentives” for foreign corporations.

In addition to the National Recovery Plan and the strategic briefing, the July 2022 Ukraine Recovery Conference presented a report prepared by the company Economist Impact, a corporate consulting firm that is part of The Economist Group. The Ukraine Reform Tracker pushed to “increase foreign direct investments” by international corporations, not invest resources in social programs for the Ukrainian people.  The Tracker report emphasized the importance of developing the financial sector and called for “removing excessive regulations” and tariffs. It called for further “liberalising agriculture” to “attract foreign investment and encourage domestic entrepreneurship,” as well as “procedural simplifications,” to “make it easier for small and medium enterprises” to “expand by purchasing and investing in state-owned assets,” thereby “making it easier for foreign investors to enter the market post-conflict.

The Ukraine Reform Tracker presented the war as an opportunity to impose the take over by foreign capital.  “The post-war moment may present an opportunity to complete the difficult land reform by extending the right to purchase agricultural land to legal entities, including foreign ones,” the report stated.  “Opening the path for international capital to flow into Ukrainian agriculture will likely boost productivity across the sector, increasing its competitiveness in the EU market,” it added.  “Once the war is over, the government will also need to consider substantially lowering the share of state owned banks, with the privatisation of Privatbank, the country’s largest lender, and Oshchadbank, a large processor of pensions and social payments,” it insisted.

Elsewhere there are less explicit pro-capital polices offered by semi-Keynesian Western economists. In a recent compilation by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), various economists have proposed Macroeconomic Policies for Wartime Ukraine. In this the authors “emphasise at the outset that Ukraine’s crisis is not a setting for a typical macroeconomic adjustment programme. ie not the usual IMF fiscal austerity and privatisation demands. But after many pages, it becomes clear that there is little difference in their proposals than those of the URC. As they say “the aim should be to pursue extensive radical deregulation of economic activity, avoid price controls, facilitate matching of labour and capital, and enhance the management of seized Russian and other sanctioned assets.

The takeover of Ukraine by capital (mainly foreign) will thus be completed and Ukraine can start paying back its debts and providing new profits for Western imperialism.

31 thoughts on “Ukraine: the invasion of capital

  1. Yes the long term interests of ordinary Ukrainians is of little interest to its neoliberal allies. It’s mainly a proxy war to gain control of assets on both sides and to establish the military and economic hegemony over the region for both the “West”(USA core strategy) and Russia.

  2. Again and again the benefits of capitalist war enrich corporations and billionaires (oligarchs) at the expense of the masses. This is a conflict mostly sanctioned by the US and Nato, EU to advance their neoliberal capitalist hegemony.

  3. Yes Ukraine’s surpluses will go either eastwards or westwards, either to the devil or the deep blue sea. The immediate question is which of these two is the worse outcome?

  4. Ukrainian trade unions are weak, mainly concentrated in state-owned sectors and associated with pre-1991 Soviet unions. It appears they are much less influential than unions are in the UK. Does anyone have better information about the state of the labour movement in Ukraine or evidence that it’s anywhere near as influential as Ukrainian nationalists?

  5. Very interesting entry, Michael, thank you from Spain. I would enphasize the importance of labor market control by capital.

  6. They’re betting Ukraine will win the war. Just have to tell the Russians that.

    Most of the Ukrainian black earth is in the Novorossiya region – precisely the area of the Donbass that will become independent, plus the rest of the Black Sea region (up to Odessa) Russia is occupying right now. The entire agricultural plan showed by the report is presupposing the Ukrainian Army will take those territories back, which implies in an absolute victory over Russia. Needless to say Russia will not allow that – first and foremost because it will win the war (it has already won; it’s now just a question of how much territory beyond the Donbass it will want to take); also, if the West is thinking about the reconstruction of the Ukraine, Russia is thinking exactly the same about Novorossiya: it will want those precious black earth, mineral reserves and industrial infrastructure to rebuild after its victory.

    The Ukrainian government is trying to drag the Western multinationals and finance to have a horse in this race, therefore also luring the Western governments to escalate the conflict. They are overestimating the power of Western capitalism: Russia is much above their pay grade (yes, even of the great Western multinationals, the MiC, big finance and the FAANGS).

    My bet is Russia will close the Ukraine off the Black Sea (the half-horseshoe area that extends from Kharkov to Odessa, linking up with Transnistria) and take however much land beyond that necessary to protect Russian territory (this is counting Crimea) from the American HIMARS missiles (300km+ radius). Yes, that could imply the conquest of Kiev. The resulting Ukraine would be a land-locked lump State with its capital in Lvov; if that becomes the reality, those multinationals acting behind the World Bank and the IMF will lose a lot of money.

  7. Really comprehensive analysis of this crushed land. Probably one of the reasons why the West provoked the war was the growing threat of China. China had become Ukraine’s largest trading partner, double Germany and quadruple USA. It was becoming a large investor and the Ukraine was probably seen by China as a key stepping stone for its BRI connect to Europe.

    1. Hardly a large investor; China’s investment grew fivefold between 2016-2021 to app $265 million representing less than 1% of total FDI. China did become Ukraine’s largest customer for grains, which is why privatization of land is so important to the “free marketeers” of the IMF, WB etc

      1. I am aware of the figures but the context is the rapid recent growth of both Chinese investment and trade. Hence Zelensky’s appeal in the South China Morning Post for Xi to restrain the Russians.

  8. Dear Michael

    I always read your blogs with great interest, but I think this one is even more important than most of the others and deserves very wide circulation. As you know well, modern capitalism is causing enormous damage to the human population and to the planet. What you explain so well that is being proposed for Ukraine’s future is appalling. Here we go again:

    As you well know from sources such as Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger in Chicago taught numerous economists who became known as ‘the Chicago boys’ the absurd monetarist economic theories they developed after 1946. These theories were designed to replace more sensible Keynesian policies with idiotic monetary policies designed to control inflation. The Chicago boys rose to prominent positions as economists within the Governments of several Latin American states. Their policies tormented the poor populations of those countries and many others, and created harmful structural adjustment programmes adopted by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury Department. These extremely harmful structural adjustment policies enhanced the welfare of the rich at the expense of the poor. They were adopted subsequently worldwide, including in the U.S.A , where they enriched billionaires, in the UK led by Margaret Thatcher and in Russia where they helped to create very rich oligarchs including previously senior USSR civil servants including Vladimir Putin. One consequence was the award of a Nobel Prize to Milton Friedman .I suggest that life imprisonment for the damage he caused to humanity and the planet would have been more appropriate recognition of his services.

    Congratulations on your great work! I hope that it receives the attention it should have from progressive people worldwide.

    Peter Senker

    >

  9. Thanks for clearly showing that war and theft of resouces (masked as humane financial/military intervention) are unmasked in Ukraine as Capitalism’s apparent only solution for the failure of its global system.

    1. It’s Western (neol)iberal capitalism that turned to its fascist face north, south, and easterly, and is the paymaster of Ukraine’s nazis. It used to be the coach and the paymaster of Russia’s kleptocrats, but recently stole most of their money!

      There are little more than two left…in Russia. But lots (especially Westerners) in Ukraine…

      Putin’s Russia has no viable capitalism to turn to (unless you believe China to be ca;italist) and is neither fascist nor imperialist. We’ll see what it will be–maybe socialist? But it’s sporting of you to hate both equally.

    2. m&m,

      “…and is the paymaster of Ukraine’s nazis.”

      Who do Russians hate the most? – the Nazis.

      If you want the Russians to hate the Ukrainians so they don’t feel so bad about murdering them, call them Nazis.

      Why did the Ukrainians collaborate with the Nazis during WWII?

      Because they hated the Soviets and what they had done to them.

      They saw the Nazis as liberators.

      Who was responsible for the deaths of millions of Ukrainians during the induced famine of the 1930s? – the Russians.

      In particular, the famine was orchestrated by the NKVD.

      The NKVD at the time was run by a set of Jews.

      So do you think the Ukrainians have reason to hate Jews?

      Parroting Putin’s propaganda is for the gullible.

      1. William Casey, CIA chief, said approximately this: When everything the American public believe is a lie, we will know our efforts will have been a success. You are a pathetic example of the “effort’s” spread to all the Western satrapies.

      2. “The NKVD at the time was run by a set of Jews.

        So do you think the Ukrainians have reason to hate Jews?” – HR

        Henry quite clearly is an ignoramus. The most cursory review of history reveals that violent anti-Semitism in Ukraine far precedes the 1930s. It precedes the 1917 Revolution, the Cheka, WW1, the 1905 revolution, the 19th century.

        So the “reason” for this persistent anti-Semitism was not caused by the 1930s actions by the NKVD
        See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/347846697_Antisemitism_in_the_Jewish_NKVD_in_Soviet_Ukraine_on_the_Eve_of_World_War_II

        That’s one. For two, the NKVD was not an organization of Jews serving Jewish interests. In fact, the collectivization policies displaced thousands of Jews from small agricultural holdings and shtetls, driving them into the cities, particularly Kyiv, where their presence was used to foster anti-Semitic actions. Big surprise.

        For three, Henry, of whom I never expected anything else, has sunk to a new low, repeating wholeheartedly the assertions of anti-Semites and reactionaries of the last 2 centuries– the “Jewish-communist conspiracy,” the “Jewish-Bolshevik cabal” that imposed a revolution on the poor (Christian) Russians.

        I’ve read enough from this dilettante and would suggest that Michael ban Henry from any further participation, given his obvious dishonesty and dissemination of anti-Semitic falsehoods. What’s next from Henry? Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

        Get rid of this reactionary clod now.

      3. AC,

        I will endeavour to procure and read the paper that you have linked.

        I am sure you will have an idiosyncratic opinion on the activities of one Lazar Kaganovich.

      4. Henry – this is a reply for all regular commentators. I have decided to give comments a break for the rest of August. There is too much argument among regulars about each other’s positions and too little discussion by new people to the blog. So let’s all take summer (northern hemisphere) break until September.

  10. I have read that Yanukovich, the elected president in 2014, objected to a trade treaty that would have “liberalised” foreign direct investment into Ukraine. His objection prompted his violent ouster, but I haven’t a source for this info. I looked at the Credit Suisse Bank’s Global Wealth report, 2021, and it shows Ukraine is a poor country. Here’s the comparison I have — first Country name, then average adult wealth, then median adult wealth (from the C.S. Databook). Zimbabwe, $7,131, $2,356 — Ukraine, $13,104, $2,529 — Russia, $42,689, $5,431 — Mexico $42,689, $12,752 — U.S. A. $505,000, $79,274. The median pay in Ukraine (from another source) was $4.50/hour, $9,300/year. Then the C.S. wealth pyramid, p. 18 main report, shows 1.1% of earth’s adults own 45.8% of all wealth, about $3.4 million/adult. The lower 55% own 1.3% of all wealth, less than $2,000/adult. Most adults in Ukraine are in the lower 55% group. The Ukraine Recovery Conference planners mentioned in the article are in the employ of the wealthiest 1.1% of world’s adults. Also in 2014, after the overthrow of Yanukovich, a plebiscite in eastern Ukraine was held, and the Russian speaking majority chose to create an independent nation, and Russia plans another such election eventually. And lastly, there have been U.S. missiles based in Poland and Romania pointing at Russia since 2016, a source of irritation naturally to the Russian leaders. All these issues enter into the disastrous choice to invade Ukraine, and they could have been negotiated peacefully and war avoided.

    1. Yanukovich rejected the deal to make the Ukraine enter the EU (under the arguments you mentioned), which triggered the color revolution.

      The Ukraine had two deals on the table: one to enter the EAEU (Eurasian Union, basically a block made of the Asian USSR plus Russia) and, later, to counter that deal, one to enter the EU (European Union). The problem was that Federica Mogherini made an ultimatum to Yanukovich, stating that Ukraine could not be a member of both unions at the same time: he should choose between the EU and the EAEU. The EAEU deal allowed Ukraine to also be part of the EU.

      Yanukovich chose the EAEU deal for the simple fact it was the better one, and made a comprehensive defense of his position. The rest is history.

      It’s important to highlight this fact because it helps us dispel a myth: that the Maidan coup was a nationalist movement. It was not: the Maidan protesters revolted because they wanted to be part of the EU, not because they believed Ukraine was a Russian vassal. Were they really nationalist in the progressive meaning of the term, they would revolt against both deals, not just the EAEU one.

      Even more important was what happened after that: when the Donbass provinces plus Crimea revolted against the Maidanic regime and the Ukraine State collapsed, what happened to the people who instigated the coup? They immediately fled to the EU – most through Poland (where they are until the present day, stuck, because their aim was either Germany or, preferably, the UK). In other words, the Ukrainian population who made the Maidan happen are not there in the Ukraine right now, fighting the war: they are in Europe, enjoying their refugee status (at least those who could pay for the travel). Those fighting right now on the Ukrainian side are either the neutral, working class Ukrainians who were caught in the middle and conscripted or, more importantly, the Neonazi militias who became the Ukrainian Army after the original one dissolved in the aftermath of the Maidan coup in 2014.

      I don’t think most Westerners have any grasp of the gravity of the situation in the Ukraine right now: this Ukrainian Army is not the original Ukrainian Army, and the Ukrainian peoples suffering in the war right now are not the Maidan supporters. The Ukraine you all knew and loved disappeared in 2014.

  11. The role of capitalism/imperialism in Ukraine perhaps needs another aspect highlighted as well? If I understand it correctly, since 2014 the IMF has not required Ukraine to undergo the routine structural adjustment programs inflicted on practically every other nation in economic crisis. Instead Ukraine has been remarkably well treated by the IMF, at least by its remarkably low standards. As a professional economist with the skills and interests, is this understanding more or less correct?

    I know that Henry Rech speaks for most everyone on this issue, but inasmuch as I think the fascists launched an attack on the Russian speaking people in Ukraine, I see this as imperialist support for that war, keeping the war-time ally afloat in order to pursue that war. But regardless of whether you see the IMF and such as supporting the Ukrainian right to self-determination against Great-Russian imperialism/fascism (and the defeat of Russia as desirable a goal as the defeat of the Kyiv Maidan government, if not more desirable,) is it reasonable to see Ukraine since 2014 as favored by the IMF et al.?

    1. Steven,

      Putin has eminent fascist credentials.

      He has supported Le Pen financially and other right wing groups (the mad right wing militias of the USA, the Austrians, UKIP).

      He employs ultra right wing mercenaries (the Wagner group) in his war against Ukraine.

      He runs an effective totalitarian state, represses brutally all dissent and is in cohoots with a bunch of kleptocratic oligarchs.

      If all that doesn’t reek of fascism then you need your olfactory senses checked.

    2. Henry Rech speaks for no one on this list. except himself. It certainly is possible to oppose Russia’s invasion and the EU/NATO/IMF/Zelensky actions without making a false equivalence.

    3. Ukraine is not the only one. The IMF – allegedly under direct orders from then POTUS Donald John Trump – violated its statute to lend a mammoth amount of money (way above the maximum allowed by the institution) to Macri’s Argentina some months before the elections in order to try to save his government. The explanatory note of the IMF explicitly stated they were doing that simply because Macri had a philosophy “they believed in” (that’s it: no fundamentals, no numbers, no nothing else).

  12. Dear Michael,
    in the previous post you mentioned:
    “But agro productivity is low. In 2014 agricultural value added per hectare was $413 in Ukraine compared to $1,142 in Poland, $1,507 in Germany, and $2,444 in France.”
    Could you please cite your sources, and/or give me the number also for Russia’s agro-productivity?
    By the way, I am translating the article in Greek…
    Thanks again!
    D.P.

  13. Michael Roberts has provided an excellent analysis of all the western imperialist plans that result in the complete “takeover of Ukraine by capital (mainly foreign)”. There are on the internet quite a few Marxist economic analyses of this kind. What is lacking is an Marxist investigation of the military side to what is after all a war. What were the real war aims of the Russian command, and what are they at this moment? How are they connected to the type of economy, class relations and political system of Russia? The military goals of NATO (US) and the Ukrainian regime are clear. I have always been surprised by the lack of Marxist detailed investigations into ongoing wars, compared to the detailed analyses of the imperialist economies. As an example of such a detailed analysis I always think of the articles on military matters of Engels. He devoted no less than 42 (!) extremely detailed Notes on the French-Prussian war, published in The Pall-Mall Gazette, 29 July 1870 – 18 February 1871.
    The reason is maybe that there is no translation of the all too general theories of modern imperialism into concrete policies of communist/Marxist organisations. The discussions among leftist organisations about the character of the Russian regime, Putinism and the class structure of Russia, often result in opponents calling for a concrete analysis of the concrete situation. But mostly these organisations and individuals have already taken a position and formulated policies without presenting such a concrete analyses and having a discussion about them. And here comes an investigation of the war aims of the Russian leadership into play. How can you, for example, support the Russian regime (as the CP of the Russian Federation does) if you don’t know what its, real, war aims are? How can you support military aid for the Ukrainian side, (as some Trotskyist organisations do) if it is clear that there’s no such help apart from NATO, that is the US and it junior partner the UK, and its proxy war aims? Or calling the war a inter imperialist conflict (as the CP of Greece and several other cp’s or anti-imperialist organisations do) without knowing what the imperialist war goals of Russia are? Let’s hope these concrete analyses of the war and its causes are forthcoming and that the Marxist left can find common policies for a consistent struggle against imperialism and war.

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