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Tuesday, December 29

Foreign Debt Payments to Stay High in 2021…Chinese Freight Trains Now Come to Kyiv Weekly…UZ Wants to Lease Out Ukraine’s Busiest Rail Stations: Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro…Fight Over Lithium…Bukovel Packed
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

Ukraine faces a second year of high foreign debt payments in 2021– $16.1 billion. This is almost double the payments expected for 2022 – $8.6 billion – and $8.9 billion in 2023, the Finance Ministry reported on Facebook. In 2020, through November, Ukraine has paid $16.9 billion for public debt principal and interest. For 2021, Ukraine will have to pay $10.9 billion domestic debt principal and interest. The country will have to pay $5.2 billion in foreign debt principal and interest

AVELLUM law firm is emerging as Ukraine’s leading advisor on Eurobond issuances, advising on $1.2 billion worth of bonds in the second half of 2020. They were: Kernel’s $300 million offering of 2027 notes at 6.75%; the Finance Ministry’s issuance of $600 million Eurobond at 6.20%, the lowest in Ukraine’s history; and Ukreximbank’s cash tender offer of $316 million.

Since freight service started in June 2020, 22 Chinese container trains have arrived at Kyiv-Liski Left Bank station, reports Ukrzaliznytsia. The trains take about two weeks to travel 9,000 km from China to here. UZ is working with Ukrainian exporters to fill trains returning to China. One month ago, UZ and DHL Global Forwarding signed an agreement to develop rail freight between China and Europe, the railroad reports.

Ukrzaliznytsia is forcing the first private freight operator on UZ tracks to charge haulage tariffs seven times those of the state railroad, reported RBK Ukraina. Earlier this month, UZ signed the first contract for private locomotives on public tracks with Lviv’s Ukrainian Locomotive Building Company. “Given the tariffs set for private traders, the pilot project could fail,” writes RBK. With private freight trains running in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, admission of private freight trains on UZ tracks is a Ukrainian obligation under the EU Association Agreement.

To take tractor-trailer trucks off the roads, Ukrzaliznytsia plans to offer shippers the option of sending semi-trailers to the EU on flatbed wagons, Volodymyr Zhmak, the railroad’s CEO, tells Mintrans news site. A semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle and without the tractor. By hauling semi-trailers across borders, Zhmak said the railroad would cut the wear and tear on roads, reduce lines at border posts, and ease the problem of Poland restricting permits for Ukrainian truckers.

Five or six “large domestic and foreign investors are ready to participate” in leasing some of Ukraine’s busiest rail stations, Alexander Pertsovsky, head of UZ’s ‘Passenger Company,’ tells Mintrans. After holding conference calls with investors, UZ is preparing concession agreements, with the advice of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. There are seven stations that are to be leased in concession: the main passenger stations of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro, and Chop, Khmelnytsky, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia. UZ predicts it will make $2 million a year from concession payments. At smaller stations, rental spaces for ATMs, snack bars and shops are to be leased through ProZorro.Sales, he said.

Thefts of parts from private company wagons in UZ workshops has become so bad that Lemtrans has started painting its removable parts a signature lemon yellow, reported Rail.Insider. Lemtrans, the owner of the largest private fleet of freight wagons in Ukraine, also uses GPS technology to track cars. Through August, thieves hit their wagons more than 400 times. Quadro Center, another major shipper, said thieves have stolen parts from one quarter of the company’s fleet since 2019. Last month alone, UZ reported 1,156 cases of thefts of parts from freight wagons.

VR Capital, the London-based emerging markets hedge fund, is pursuing litigation against Ukrzaliznytsia over a $300 million package of defaulted loans that VR acquired two years ago at auction from Russian lender Prominvestbank, reports Reorg Research, a London financial intelligence provider. The loans had an initial principal of $153 million, but since they matured in 2015 and 2016, the accumulated fees, penalties and interest have risen to an almost equal amount. Reporter Jack Laurenson wrote that UZ has entered into talks with VR and recognizes that VR now holds the debt.

In the first quarter of 2021, DTEK Energy will launch Ukraine’s first industrial-scale energy storage system project, DTEK CEO Maksym Timchenko announced last week. US company Honeywell is building with DTEK a 1 MW energy storage system based on lithium-ion batteries, near DTEK’s Zaporizhia Power Plant. Energy storage is seen as a key to balancing the peaks and low of solar power.

With demand high for lithium for batteries, Gosgeonadr, the state Geology Service, is trying to conduct a public, online auction of two deposits – a 40-hectare site in Donetsk region and a 300-hectare site in Kirovohrad region. “However, there are attempts through the courts to disrupt open electronic bidding,” Roman Opimakh, head of Gosgeonadr, writes on Facebook. “This is in order not to pay a fair price set by open competitive bidding.” Noting that the Donetsk site may have 13.5 million tons of lithium ore, he writes: “There is a significant demand for the ‘metals of the future’ in the world market – and this includes lithium.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday charged Oleksandr Tupytsky, chairman of the Constitutional Court, with bribing a witness to make him give false testimony. The charge comes one week after Radio Svoboda posted audiotapes in which Tupytsky tried to dissuade a Donetsk businessman from testifying against another controversial judge, Viktor Tatkov.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved yesterday seven production-sharing agreements with private and state companies for the production of oil and gas. Only one foreign company is involved – Houston-based Aspect Energy, a business in partnership with Sigma Bleyzer. A Canadian company, Vermilion Energy, dropped out in November, citing low oil and gas prices. Companies have until January 7 2021 to sign their agreements.

Ukraine’s biggest ski resort Bukovel is fully booked through the New Year’s holidays, Reuters reports from the Carpathians. With EU skis closed or inaccessible to Ukrainian tourists, Bukovel is jammed. The resort, which covers five mountains, usually draws 2 million visitors in the winter. Unlike some other European countries, Ukraine has not imposed any restrictions on travel within the country.

Editor’s Note: It’s Bukovel in a nutshell. If readers wonder why retail sales are up, foreign reserves are up, foreign trade is almost balanced, and the hryvnia is strong, the answer can be seen on the crowded ski slopes of Bukovel. Cooped up because of corona, Ukrainians have a hard time traveling outside the country this winter. So, money that would be spent in the Alps or the Dolomites is rolling through the Carpathians. One legacy of Covid may be more international standard hotels, roads and airports for Ukrainians who want to vacation at home. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Friday, November 13

Wind, Solar Investors Are Up Against the Wall...China’s Sinohydro Pushes Back on Highway Contract...IMF In No Rush to Resume Aid to Ukraine...Covid Paralyzes Rogue Court...Antonov Starts Building Planes Again...Warm Weather Stretches Dnipro Shipping Season
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

Wind and solar investments account for one quarter of the €49 billion of foreign direct investment in Ukraine since Independence in 1991. However, €660 million in unpaid electricity bills is forcing foreign investors to renegotiate bank loans, mull bankruptcy and to pursue international litigation against Ukraine, participants told an Energy Talk webinar organized last week by the European Business Association.

Carl Sturen, the Swedish managing director of wind power developer Vindkraft, said: “We are lagging behind on our payments and we definitely can’t wait.” Sergii Shakalov, CEO of Kness Group, a solar panel production plant launched in 2019 in Vinnytsia, says he has already lost $10 million due to non-payments. “One of the biggest problems of Ukraine is that it doesn’t comprehend that agreements should be fulfilled in any situation,” complained Shakalov, reports the Kyiv Post, a co-sponsor of the webinar.

The Government’s Guaranteed Buyer says it has paid all for renewable energy generated in August and for 93% of power produced in September. The press service of the Ministry of Energy reports that the green tariff reductions negotiated with renewable companies in July has saved consumers $53 million.

China’s Sinohydro Corporation Limited intends to file an international arbitration claim for Ukravtodor’s termination two weeks ago of its contract for construction of a bypass highway around Zhytomyr. Sinohydro was five months overdue on the project, delays the company blamed Covid disruptions and the tardy transfer of a key land plot by Ukraine’s state highway agency. The Chinese say that in September, a Dispute Resolution Council give them an extra three months to complete work by the end of this year. Sinohydro says Ukravtodor ignored a Dispute Council Nov. 2 back to work order. Instead, they say, Ukravtodor took possession of €8.5 million worth of bank guarantees and transferred the construction site to the regional highway authority.

Coming as Ukraine seeks public-private partnerships with foreign road construction companies, Sinohydro says its treatment should serve as a warning. “It is difficult for the company to understand why, over and over again, Ukravtodor similarly terminates agreements with contractors, including with other foreign companies,” the Chinese company said yesterday. “Sinohydro believes such actions of Ukravtodor will significantly weaken the desire of foreign contractors to participate in the construction projects of the state agency.”

The recent decision by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court to dismantle anti-corruption legislation is the biggest impediment to a restoration of IMF loans flows to Ukraine, Kyrylo Shevchenko, governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, told Voice of America in Washington after meeting with the IMF and World Bank. Other issues are: the mounting budget deficit and the work of the central bank after the summer changeover of leadership.

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy reads between the lines of this “sobering statement” and concludes: “No IMF tranche in 2020, meaning IMF-related financing of Ukraine’s 2020 budget deficit (from the Fund, the EU and the World Bank) for a total amount of up to $2.5 billion won’t arrive this year. Therefore, the only viable way for Ukraine to try to fill its budget gap without such money is a massive issue of international Eurobonds. As soon as it becomes apparent to the government that no IMF-related money will come soon, it will be high time for Ukraine to prepare for the new bond issue.”

In London, Timothy Ash polled his Twitter followers about Ukraine’s IMF prospects. He posted on @tashecon this breakdown of the 260 replies: IMF money this year – 15%; IMF money in Q1 – 27%; IMF money in Q2 – 15%; unclear as major problems – 43%.

Covid accomplishes what Zelenskiy cannot. Covid has paralyzed the Constitutional Court, with the majority of the 15-member court “either sick or awaiting test results because they have symptoms of coronavirus,” a ‘source’ tells Interfax-Ukraine. One judge, Ihor Slidenko, tells the news agency: “I am reliably aware of two cases of COVID-19 among judges of the Constitutional Court.”

Zelenskiy and his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, are being treated for Covid at Feofania Clinic, the southern Kyiv hospital reserved for high level officials. Two ministers reported this week that they also have Covid: Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko and Defense Minister Andriy Taran. Three presidential aides reportedly have recovered from Covid: Yulia Kovaliva, Roman Mashovets, and Serhiy Shefir.

With the nationwide ‘weekend lockdown’ starting after midnight tonight, there is scattered resistance. The leaders of Lviv, Rivne and Sloviansk say they will not follow the rules. Epicenter, one of the nation’s largest retailers, announced it is declaring a 72-hour Friday. Yesterday, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov announced a new peak of 11,057 new Covid cases – double the daily average of one month ago. Stepanov told reporters that Covid is spreading in Ukraine at a “hurricane rate.”

Upside of global warming: the shipping season on the Dnipro will be extended by two weeks this year, to Dec. 1, reports the State Maritime and River Transport Service. The four northernmost locks — Kyiv, Kaniv, Kremenchuk and Kamianske – had been scheduled to start closing Sunday. Closing the river involves pulling out hundreds of buoys in a north-south sequence. But Kyiv is not forecast to see prolonged cold weather until mid-December. Last winter, serious ice only formed in January. Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krikliy said last week: “Our plans are to navigate the Dnipro throughout the year, if weather conditions are favorable.”

Ukraine will invest $70 million next year to revive regular production of aircraft at Antonov and to “master the full production of helicopters,” Prime Minister Shmyhal told the Cabinet Tuesday. The money is to be part of a decade long, $1.4 billion investment to revive the portions of Ukraine’s aircraft industry seen as most profitable. Emerging from an import substitution phase prompted by the 2014 break with Russia, Antonov now is building an An-178 military cargo jet for Peru’s National Police. It also is negotiating a joint production venture with Turkey. Last week, Sergiy Bychkov took over as acting general director of Antonov, succeeding Oleksandr Los, who resigned after four months in the post.

Russia has decided to its close trade missions in two of its Western neighbors, Ukraine and Lithuania, and to open a mission in Syria. Russia-Ukraine trade steadily dropped after 2014, the year Russia annexed Crimea and moved troops into Ukraine’s Donbass. Last year, China displaced Russia as Ukraine’s largest single nation trading partner. Through October, Ukraine’s trade with the EU this year was three times its trade with the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States, according to figure released Tuesday by the State Customs Service.

Russia’s last trade office in the Baltics was in Lithuania. Trade during the first half of this year dropped by almost one third, compared to the first half of 2019. An official note accompanying the decree by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin complains: “The foreign economic policy pursued by the leadership of the Republic of Lithuania does not contribute to building up trade relations with Russia.”

Editor’s Note: Walking down Kyiv’s Volodomyrska Street yesterday, I spotted the Iranian Ambassador’s car parked on the sidewalk. Then the smiling Iranian Ambassador slipped inside the opened door of the Armenian Embassy. Diplomats are digesting what some US analysts are calling a “Russian victory.”  Victory? The Russians were late, their client lost the war and the land, and Russia now has 2,000 peacekeeping troops tied up for five years patrolling a desolate piece of real estate. (I have driven that mountain road from Armenia proper to Nagorno-Karabakh). “Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space has suffered a blow,” Leonid Bershidsky writes from Berlin for Bloomberg. “Georgians, Ukrainians and Moldovans may also decide that returning territory ripped from their countries by now-frozen conflicts is merely a matter of waiting for an opportune moment.”  In Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey egged on the Azeris and supplied the drones that turned the tide on the battlefield. Once again, it is clear that Erdogan is willing to use military might to confront Russia in the region. With Turkey increasingly flexing its muscles, the fast-growing Turkey-Ukraine military alliance may soon alter Black Sea geopolitical realities. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke