By bringing Ukraine’s key rate back to where it was one year ago, the National Bank of Ukraine said it wants to tamp down inflation.
to smooth out foreign exchange fluctuations. As the hryvnia strengthened last week, the bank sold $50 million, reported the National Bank of Ukraine website. Since the start of the year, the hryvnia has appreciated by 2%, achieving the current rate of 27.8 hryvnia/dollar.
The share of UZ cars in freight trains has dropped in half – from 47% in 2018 to 21% in 2021, Zhmak said. This year, Zhmak wants to increase the UZ portion to 40%. Private cars are more popular because they are cheaper and in better shape. Critics charge UZ drags its feet on pilot projects to allow private freight trains on UZ tracks.
Former Ukrzaliznytsia CEO Wojciech Balczun is co-owner of Aurum Polonez, an amber mining company in Klesiv, northern Rivne oblast, according to Nadra.info. A Polish rock musician, Balczun ran UZ in 2016-2017. His partners are Poland’s Amos Investments and Mykola Nemtsov, who was UZ’s acting director of security during Balczun’s time at the railroad.
Egis Ukraina, a French-financed engineering company working in Ukraine for the last three decades, has entered into a joint venture with Ertle, Ltd, an international engineering and construction holding, known locally as Derffer. The new company is called Egis Ertle Engineering. Ignace Haertlé, founder of the Ertle Group and major Derffer shareholder, notes that the company worked on the NOVARKA new safe confinement for Chornobyl, saying: “Through the years, we have delivered projects for both international and local clients including turnkey contracts, reconstructions, adaptations.”
Half of Ukrainians seeking work abroad want to go to Poland, with two thirds looking for seasonal work, according to an OLX Work survey last month of 7,700 Ukrainian job seekers. The other top two destinations are: the Czech Republic – 11%; and Germany – 9%. The primary reasons are: high salaries in the EU – 60%; and difficult financial situation at home – 39%. Construction and factory work account for half of the jobs sought.
Resistance to vaccinations against the coronavirus is high and growing in Ukraine, the AP reports in an article headlined: “Wide resistance to vaccines plagues Ukraine’s COVID-19 fight.” The portion of poll respondents who do not want to get vaccinated rose from 40% in February to 60% in March 2021, according to polls of 1,200 Ukrainians conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. In the first half of 2019, resistance to measles vaccinations lead to 5,000 cases in Kyiv and 50,000 nationwide.
The Health Ministry reported that 40% of medical workers say they do not want to be vaccinated. In the Donetsk village of Selydove, a visiting AP reporter found that only 5% of medical workers agreed to be vaccinated. Thirty kilometers away, in the frontline town of Krasnohorivka, AP reported: “Soldiers widely refused to be vaccinated.”
Ukraine and Israel are negotiating mutual recognition of “vaccination passports” for tourist travel, Yevhen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel, told Ukraine 24 TV. In September, more than 4,000 Hasidic Jewish pilgrims plan to travel to Uman, Cherkasy region, for the High Holidays. Although Israel has the world’s highest vaccination rate for a major country – 44% — some Orthodox Jews refuse to be vaccinated.
UIA said that it has refunded $2.5 million to travelers last month for flights cancelled due to COVID-19. These refunds, up to 15,000 passengers, brings to $29 million the airline has refunded to customers over the last year.
Passenger traffic at Kyiv Boryspil was down by two thirds during the first two months of this year, compared to January-February 2020, reported the Center for Transportation Studies. With UIA’s suspension of its hub system, transfer passengers were down 94%, to 20,018. Passengers on regular, scheduled flights were down 75%, to 373,726. Faring best were vacationers on charter flights, which were down by 30%, to 298,332.
A total of 1,000 people a day crossed the two checkpoints with Russia-controlled Crimea last month, reported Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service. This volume – 27,300 people – was down 88% compared to February, 2019.
In the last six months, Ukraine’s Central Bank has moved from collegiality to Soviet-style centralism, Kateryna Rozhkova, First Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, said in a lengthy interview with NV. “There’s actually a rollback,” she says. Relations with the new Governor of the Central Bank have become so frosty that they only communicate in group meetings, on Zoom. She said: “If there are any questions and I comment on something, he comments on something. It does not mean that we communicate with him.”
Hours after the interview with NV was posted on Facebook yesterday, the bank’s communications department tried — unsuccessfully — to censor the interview. Rozhkova also complained that she is no longer invited to key meetings and that her opinions are not heard on PrivatBank, the bank she helped to nationalize in 2016. In response, Galyna Kalachova, the bank spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook that Rozhkova had been asked to edit the text to reflect bank policy. She wrote: “One-voice policy is important.”
Independence of the Central Bank became the critical issue with the IMF last summer after President Zelenskiy pushed out the internationally known and respected governor, Yakiv Smoliy. In the ensuing shakeup, several top officials left the bank and Rozhkova’s responsibilities were reduced. The public dispute comes one week after the bank raised prime for the first time in two year, to 6.5%. President Zelenskiy favors easy money policies.
With the $5 billion IMF lending program to Ukraine suspended, Bloomberg and Reuters moved stories yesterday on the spat. Bloomberg headlined: “Another Ukrainian Central Banker Speaks Out on Governance Fears.” Reuters headlined: “Ukraine central bank denies it tried to censor top official.”
Ukrzaliznytsia passenger service – which has been hemorrhaging money loser – lost 26% more of its income in the last year, a total of $314 million, said Volodomyr Zhmak, the state railroad’s CEO, yesterday. Due to quarantine restrictions on travel, passenger traffic decreased by 56%, to 68 million passengers. Estimating that the railroad’s locomotives and cars are “90% worn out,” Zhmak praised the government for allocating $145 million this year for the renovation of rolling stock. In Ukraine, freight subsidizes passenger service.
“Russia Pushes Ahead on Europe Gas Link Before U.S. Sanctions,” headlines a Bloomberg story posted Thursday, the day before the US Senate vote. With 150 km of the 1,230 km pipeline left to be laid, Nord Stream 2 has planned to start work on Jan. 15, using the ‘Fortuna,’ a Russian pipe line laying vessel capable of laying one kilometer a day. “I firmly believe the pipeline will be completed,” Uniper SE Chief Executive Officer Andreas Schierenbeck told Germany’s Rheinische Post on Wednesday. But, in Warsaw, Mateusz Kubiak, an analyst at Esperis energy consultancy, predicted the US Senate vote and said: “All of the additional pipe-laying activities will now be sanctioned, including surveying, trenching and rock placement.”
“US imposes new sanctions to kill off Putin’s pet pipeline,” headlines an Atlantic Council piece by Diane Francis, posted Saturday. “It means almost certain doom for Putin’s most important energy project and prevents Russia from tightening its control over EU natural gas supplies,” she writes of the sanctions which severely penalize companies constructing, insuring and certifying Nord Stream 2. Warning of the pipeline’s geopolitical significance, she adds that the gas line “would also damage Ukraine by rendering the country’s gas transportation system largely redundant and depriving Kyiv of significant transit revenues.” Francis quotes Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, predicting last month: “This project will never deliver gas.”
Russia cut its volume of gas pumped across Ukraine by 38% in 2020, compared to the previous year. Although Gazprom pumped 55.8 billion cubic meters through Ukraine’s east-west pipeline system, Russia’s state gas export monopoly will pay for the full 65 bcm contracted for 2020, reports the Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine. This year through 2024, Gazprom is contracted to ship 40 bcm a year through Ukraine.
In reverse, gas transportation from Europe to Ukraine hit almost 16 bcm last year, 12% more than in 2019 and 27% more than the annual average for 2016-18. About 10 bcm went into storage as 52 Ukrainian companies and 30 foreign ones took advantage of Ukraine’s new ‘short-haul’ and ‘customs warehouse’ storage regimes. With the start of the European winter heating system, draw down from storage started in November. Today, EU gas prices are at a 2-year high. Next April, Ukraine will have 7 bcm of available storage space, forecasts Ukrtransgaz.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić opened Friday Serbia’s 403 km extension of the Balkan Stream natural-gas pipeline, AP reports from Belgrade. Fuel for the line comes from Anapa, Russia, and then flow 930 km across the Black Sea in TurkStream. From northern Turkey, the line supplies Bulgaria, Romania and now, Serbia. It’s opening last year caused the sharp drop in Russian gas flowing across Ukraine. A Balkan Stream extension is planned to Hungary, currently a major importer of Russian gas through Ukraine. Last July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced TurkStream and Nord Stream 2 as “Kremlin tools.”
Pumped from the Tristar Ruby, a US cargo of LNG from Cove Point, Maryland inaugurated last weekend Croatia’s first liquefied natural gas landing terminal at Krk, an island in the northern Adriatic. POWERGLOBE, a Qatar company, has booked the terminal’s full capacity through 2023, largely with gas from the US and Qatar, reports CEEnergy News. With the terminal’s capacity equal to Croatia’s current consumption of 2.9 bcm, almost all from Gazprom, Ukraine is negotiating with Croatia and Hungary to send the US and Qatar gas to Ukraine, Serhiy Makogon, head of Ukraine’s Gas Transmission System Operator, writes on his Facebook page. Krk is about 1,000 km southwest of Chop, Zakarpattia.
Separately, Azeri gas has started moving through the new Trans Adriatic Pipeline, Interfax-Azerbaijan reports from Baku, citing Azerbaijan’s Energy Ministry. This 878 km pipeline picks up Azeri gas from Turkey’s terminus of the Trans-Anatolia Pipeline and then pushes it across northern Greece, Albania, under the Adriatic and, finally to Italy, near Brindisi. Competing with Russian pipelines, the Azeri pipeline is designed to transport 10 bcm a year from the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian. The pipeline design allows for compressors to double capacity to 20 bcm. For comparison, Ukraine imported about 14 bcm for internal consumption in 2020.
Tomasz Fiala, CEO of Dragon Capital, and Ivan Svitek, former Chairman of Alfa Bank Ukraine, have signed an agreement to buy Unex Bank from Vadim Novinsky’s Smart Holding. “The Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine has already approved the agreement,” Smart Holding said Thursday. Last year, Fiala and Svitek, both Czechs, tried to buy Idea Bank, but could not come to terms with the Polish owner over price, reports Interfax-Ukraine. The price for Unex has not been disclosed. According to the National Bank of Ukraine, Unex has $28 million in assets, making it rank 64th among the 74 banks operating in Ukraine.
To prevent a strengthening of the hryvnia, the central bank bought a net $335.5 million on the interbank market in December. By contrast, during the whole year, the bank bought a net $1.1 billion, reports the National Bank of Ukraine. The Bank intervenes to prevent exchange rate volatility. The 2021 budget is predicated on an average exchange rate this year of UAH 29.1 per dollar, a 3% devaluation from today’s rate of 28.27.
Ukraine’s minimum wage increased Friday by $35, $212 per month. On Dec. 1, it increases to $230. With the minimum wage largely used to calculate pensions, Ukraine’s average monthly wage is $480.
Real wages were up 8% yoy in November, reports the State Statistics Service. Nationally, the average nominal wage was $404. In Kyiv, the wage was 54% higher — $622. Nationwide, the biggest regional increases were: Luhansk and Chernivsti + 21%; Ternopil and Mykolaiv + 20%; Khmelnytsky and Rivne +18.5%; Ivano-Frankivsk and Kherson +18%), and Sumy and Kirovohrad +15%.
Despite the global economic recession, Ukraine’s trade deficit dropped in half last year, from $10.22 billion to $4.9 billion in 2020, Taras Kachka, Ukraine’s Trade Representative, wrote on Facebook. Helped by strong commodity prices, Ukraine’s exports were down only 1.7%, to $49.3 billion, he writes. In the month of December, exports were up 18% yoy, to $4.9 billion. Kachka writes: “The secret of December numbers is pretty simple – metal and ore prices are rising worldwide at a crazy rate.”
Despite a poor harvest, exports of the top three grains – corn, wheat and barley – were down only 2.3% yoy in dollar terms, to $9.4 billion for 2020. “Due to the reduction in the harvest, physical exports are smaller than last year,” wrote Kachka, who is also deputy minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture. “But this decrease in physical exports is compensated for price increases.”
With new US sanctions on Nord Stream 2 made final by Friday’s vote in the US Senate, the Norwegian company, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) GL announced Saturday that it will not be able to certify the $11.6 billion Russia-German Baltic gas line, RBK news site reports from Moscow. “Due to the current situation, DNV GL is unable to issue a certificate upon completion of the pipeline,” DNV GL told RBK. “DNV GL will cease all inspection activities of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline system in accordance with the sanctions and as long as these sanctions remain in effect.”