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Wednesday, January 27

IFC Takes Key Step for Privatizing Ukrgasbank…Ukraine Wants to Stretch Out IMF Program…In a World Hungry for Yields, MinFin Lowers Bond Yields…Western Temptresses: German and Polish Railroads Beckon Workers from UZ
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

In a symbolic step toward privatizing Ukraine’s state-dominated banking sector, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation is extending a €30 million euro loan to state-owned Ukrgasbank, which can be converted into the bank’s equity shares. Ukrgasbank is one of four state-controlled banks, a group that has 60% market share in Ukraine. Last September, Ukraine’s government approved a goal of cutting this market share to 25% in 2025. Andrii Kravets, Chairman of Ukrgasbank’s Board said: “This step comes as a key milestone in privatising Ukrgasbank and curtailing the government’s share of the banking sector.”

“Ukrgasbank will be Ukraine’s first state-owned bank to go private,” the National Bank of Ukraine said in a press release. “The new €30mn loan lays the groundwork for the bank’s transformation.” Kyrylo Shevchenko, the current Central Bank
Governor, ran the bank for a decade after its nationalization, building it into Ukraine’s fourth biggest bank, with $5.5 billion assets. “Over the past 10 years, Ukrgasbank has gone from a bank that was saved from bankruptcy in 2009 to an attractive asset for international investors,” Shevchenko said at Monday’s loan signing ceremony. “This partnership between the state and the International Finance Corporation will give customers access to cheaper resources from international capital markets.”

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy writes: “Taking into account that Ukrgazbank was best-prepared for an international financial institution entering into its equity, and that the negotiation process with IFC took more than three years and ended up in just a loan, we can conclude that the timing of a privatization, or an IFI entering into another state bank, will be quite long.”

The IMF has raised its world GDP growth forecast to 5.5% for this year, according to its World Economic Outlook Update released yesterday. Growth is predicated on aggressive and successful global vaccination campaigns against coronavirus. Emerging market economies will rebound by 6.3% this year, the IMF predicts. Other IMF GDP growth forecasts are: India – 11.5%; China – 8.1%; Spain – 5.9%; France 5.5%; US – 5.1%; UK – 4.5%; Eurozone – 4.2%; Brazil – 3.6%; Germany – 3.5%, Japan – 3.1%; Italy, Russia and Ukraine – 3%.

Ukraine wants to extend its $5.2 billion IMF loan program by another six months, to June 2022, reports Approved last June, the program was designed to release the money in five tranches through the end of this year. However, after an initial release of $2.1 billion, the program stalled due to the IMF’s perception that the Zelenskiy Administration strayed from the free market guidelines.

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy wrote: “The Fund will demand the full restoration of the recently damaged anti-corruption infrastructure. Therefore, the allegations are in line with our assessment that the probability of Ukraine of securing next IMF tranche in 1Q21 is below 50%. A likely delay of the next tranche is not a big risk for Ukraine’s public finances as soon as there is still a high chance for renewed cooperation with the IMF in 1H21.”

The Finance Ministry lowered yields on three of four-hryvnia Government Bonds it offered at auction yesterday, the Ministry reported on Facebook. By squeezing the supply of 6-month bonds, it lowered the average yield by 87 basis points to 9.86%. For 1.5-year bonds, the yield dropped seven basis points to 11.68%, and for 2-year bonds, the yield dropped 13 basis points, to 11.81%. For 3-year bond, the yield was unchanged at 12.15%. The Ministry auctioned the equivalent of $268 million, about 60% the volume of the prior week, according to the Ministry’s website.

The Finance Ministry sold last year the equivalent of $13.6 billion worth of bonds, reports the Ministry. About one third of the bonds were in foreign currency — $3.8 billion and €800 million. State banks led the list of top purchasers: Privatbank, Ukrgasbank, Oschadbank, OTP Bank, Ukreximbank, Citibank and Raiffeisen Bank Aval. Top dealers in the secondary market were: Citibank, OTP Bank, Ukrgasbank, FUIB, Raiffeisen Bank Aval, Alfa-Bank, Kredobank and Oschadbank. At the end of December, Ukrainian banks held 52% of the bonds, the central bank held 32.5% and foreigners held 8.5%.

With Argentina and Russia moving next month to curb corn exports, Ukraine is meeting domestic consumers half way, imposing an export quota of 24 million tons, 8% higher than what pig and poultry producers wanted. High world corn prices are pushing producing countries to make they keep enough at home for domestic needs. Halfway through the marketing year, Ukraine has exported about half of its new quota for corn, its largest export crop, reports the Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture Ministry.

Ukraine’s food exports to the EU slipped by 11% last year, to €6.5 billion, the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club reports on Facebook. Ukraine was tied with China as the third largest source of imported food for the EU. In terms of market share, the ranking was: Brazil – 9%; US – 8%; and China and Ukraine – 5%. Last year, Ukraine fully used its quotas for duty-free export to the EU for 11 product foods: honey, sugar, cereals and flour, starch, processed tomatoes, grape and apple juices, eggs, corn, poultry, and processed cereal products.

Poland, Slovakia and Hungary recruit heavily for Ukrzaliznytsia’s railway workers, leading to a growing labor shortage here, reports the Center for Transportation Strategies. “There are a huge number of job advertisements for railway workers in European countries, most of all in neighboring Poland, reports the story headlined: “How Ukrainian Railway Workers Leave the Country.” “The average age of people who quit and went to work abroad is 25-45 years,” a UZ union representative tells reporter Alina Kostyuchenko. Every year, about 5% of UZ’s 260,000 workers leave UZ before retirement.

“Dmitri lokfuhrer,” or Dmitri, the locomotive engineer, is the poster boy for Deutsche Bahn’s new Ukrainian language recruiting advertisement for Ukrainian train drivers. Featuring a video of Dmitri driving a late model DB passenger train, the announcement offers: assistance with relocation to Germany, up to 1 year training in Berlin or Leipzig, a compensation package, and an open-ended full-time employment contract with Deutsche Bahn. Requirements are higher education and B1, or intermediate, spoken German. Train engineer salaries in Germany are €3,500 a month, or five times the level in Ukraine.

Editor’s Note: As Ukraine emerges from its one-month lockdown-holiday break, business is starting up again. Deals are being forged through Zoom calls. Restaurants are filling up. At the Ukraine Business News, our barometer is a steady increase in signups through the website — In the last week, we have had meetings with supporters to work out the addition in February of two additional languages to our existing group on the site: English, Ukrainian, Russian, German, French, Spanish and Polish. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, tell your friends and business partners to sign up for the weekday morning English language email – With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, September 9

Ukraine May Return to Eurobond Market...$4 Billion in Deals in Last Six Weeks...’Big Construction’ to Start Rebuilding Airport Runways in Mukachevo, Poltava, Sumy, and Zhytomyr
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 may place $1-1.5 billion worth Eurobonds this fall to cover the budget deficit and to buy back more GDP warrants, predicts Bank of America Securities. This would follow July’s successful placement of $2 billion worth of 13-year Eurobonds. That deal, at 7.25%, was three times oversubscribed. Potentially chilling foreign interest, the IMF’s planned September review of the $5 billion Standby Agreement with Ukraine may be delayed, BofA warns.

Facing weak investor demand, the Finance Ministry sold on Tuesday only one third the volume of hryvnia bonds as at last week’s auction, and at slightly higher yields. In yesterday’s auction, the government sold the hryvnia equivalent of $35 million, one third for 1-year bonds and two thirds for 3-year bonds, the Ministry reported on Facebook. The weighted average yield for 1-year bonds was 9.28%, virtually unchanged. For 3-year securities, the yield was 10.46% – 46 basis points above the last auction of 3-years, one month ago.

Fitch, the ratings agency that most closely follows Ukraine, reaffirmed its ‘B’ rating for Ukraine last Friday, with a stable outlook. Japan’s R&I upgraded Ukraine’s sovereign rating last week by one notch, from B to B+, outlook stable. Since March, Standard & Poor’s has given Ukraine a B stable rating. In June, Moody’s brought Ukraine up one notch to B3 stable.

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy writes: Looking at the balance of possible positive and negative triggers for Ukraine’s rating, we see a low chance for Ukraine to get any better rating in the next year.

A new Eurobond placement would come on the heels of two large deals:

  • In late August, the Finance Ministry borrowed $329 million from JPMorgan Chase & Co. at 7.75% to buy back about 10% of the $3.2 billion worth Ukraine’s GDP-linked warrants issued as part of the 2015 debt restructuring. It is believed Ukraine bought the bonds back at 90% of par value.
  • On Sept. 1, the Finance Ministry redeemed $1.69 billion worth of Eurobonds issued in 2015 and maturing this year. At the same time, the Ministry paid $400 million in interest payments on Eurobonds maturing in 2020-2027. Looking ahead, the Ministry said on its website: “By the end of the year, the balance of foreign currency payments on the state debt is about $ 1.6 billion.”

Ukraine’s international reserves grew to $29 billion in August, the highest level in eight years, reports the National Bank of Ukraine. Boosting reserves, foreign travel by Ukrainians was down sharply due to the coronavirus restrictions and the nation enjoyed a trade surplus.

Ukraine is on track with the IMF, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said Monday on Inter TV’s Details of the Week program. He said: “We are in a dialogue with the IMF, and  hope to receive the next tranche. We have two more tranches planned by the end of the year for $700 million each, and  in the near future there will be an online conference, that is, it will not be a visit, it will be an online mission of the fund.”

Timothy Ash retorts from London: “The danger with this official line that things are fine on the IMF front is that politicians are lulled into a false sense of security, when the reality is that this Fund program is in serious trouble. Someone needs to read the riot act to the Zelenskiy Administration that unless they address the mounting list of issues related to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, the anti-corruption agenda more generally, independent supervisory boards at state companies, PrivatBank and the banking reform issue, then there will be no more IMF money from the Fund or other official creditors – and you can only string the market along so long with warm words.”

Domestic air flights were down the least of air travel in August, down only 17% yoy to 2,519, reports UkSATSE, Ukraine’s air traffic control agency. By contrast – international flights to and from Ukraine were down 50%, to 8,249, and transit flights through Ukraine’s air space were down 68%, to 5,922. After last spring’s collapse, air flights in Ukraine have steadily recovered:  2,372 flights in April; 3,237 in May; 4,584 in June; 12,195 in July; and 16,690 in August. Flights are expected to drop again in September as the government has closed Ukraine to most foreign travelers for the month.

By 2023, several key regional airports will be reopened under the ‘Big Construction’ program, President Zelenskiy promised last week on a visit to Poltava airport. “We will add all airports to the program,” he said, referring to second tier airports that have languished since the 1990s. Promising to start rebuilding Poltava’s runway next year, he said: “We will definitely make Poltava Airport part of our ‘Big Construction’ program.”

President Zelenskiy promised yesterday to rebuild the runway of Sumy airport, if the regional government finds an investor to rebuild the terminal. “We are ready to build this strip in Sumy,if you have those who will build the terminal in parallel,” he told Roman Grishchenko, head of the regional administration, on a visit to the airport. Two years ago, the Infrastructure Ministry estimated that it would cost €25 million to rebuild the Soviet-era terminal and the 2,500-meter runway. Without scheduled air service for over a decade,  Sumy residents face 3-hour drives to Kharkiv or Poltava airports or a 4.5-hour drive to Kyiv.

Zakarpattia will get an international standard airport with the construction in coming years of a $145 million airport in Mukachevo, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krikliy promises on Facebook. Last month, the Cabinet of Minister approved spending $1 million to design an airport on the site of an abandoned Soviet-era air base south of the city. Under the plan, a private investor would build the terminal. The Infrastructure Ministry would build a 2,500-meter long runway, capable of handling B737 and A320 passenger jets for flights to the EU and Turkey and Egypt. Zakarpattia’s current airport, in Uzhgorod, has limited capacity due to restrictions imposed by neighboring Slovakia and the EU.

Zhytomyr regional authorities are talking with a private investor to build an air cargo hub at Zhytomyr airport, a 90-minute drive west of the Kyiv’s Ring Road. Vitaly Bunechko, head of the regional government, tells Interfax-Ukraine that the airport first needs $13 million in government aid to expand the runway by 50%, to 2,500 meters. Opened in 1939, the airport provides maintenance for Yanair’s all-Boeing fleet of 737s and offers easy access to Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov Museum of Cosmonautics.

Corona virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are running at double the levels of one month ago, Ukraine Health Ministry figures show. On Monday morning, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov announced that 57 people died in the last 24 hours. At the same time, 2,411 new cases were announced, and almost 8,000 people are undergoing treatment in Ukrainian hospitals.

From the Editor: You know its election season when politicians tour the country promising to rebuild regional airports. But this time it may happen. President Zelenskiy wants to be remembered as ‘Volodomyr the Builder.’ Of the 50 airports built during the Soviet era, about 15 could support commercial service today. Restoring these airports also would be key to Zelenskiy’s dream of creating a national airline based on a fleet of Kyiv-made Antonov regional jets. To boost domestic air travel, the Rada recently exempted domestic air tickets from VAT. It was odd that Ukraine, a nation larger than mainland France, has stunted domestic air travel. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, September 8

China Discusses Building Mammoth Black Sea Grain Terminal...Ukraine’s Exports Recover, Seaport Cargo Up 5%...First Wheat Shipment to Saudi Arabia...With Gas Glut, EU Traders Stuff Gas into Ukraine Reservoirs...Saakashvili Wants to Become Prime Minister of...Georgia
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

A Chinese state company is discussing building a massive Black Sea grain terminal that could handle 5 million tons a year, the equivalent of 10% of Ukraine’s corn and wheat exports. Yesterday, representatives of China Road Construction Corporation International Investment met with executives of Pivdennyi port, Ukraine’s deepest and busiest port. The project would represent a big expansion for Pivdennyi, located 45 km east of Odesa. Last month, iron ore accounted for 86% of the 1.5 million tons of cargo handled at the port.

Chinese container trains now arrive at Kyiv at the pace of one a week, reports Ukrzaliznytsia. Traveling 9,000 km from Nanchang in 15 days, the latest train arrived Saturday at Kyiv’s left bank Liski freight depot. Its 41 containers carried mineral fertilizers, lamps, bulbs, medical cargo and chemical components for filtering water. With three more container trains due to arrive this month, Ukrzaliznytsia is booking return freight of Ukrainian goods for China.

Ukraine seeks Chinese investment in industrial parks specializing in processing, storing and transshipping food, Olga Stefanishyna, deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, yesterday told China’s new ambassador to Ukraine, Fan Xianrong. Ukraine wants to increase food exports to China, and to use Chinese free ports to export to Pacific Basin countries, she said, reports the Cabinet of Ministers website. “To intensify cooperation,” her Ministry is establishing a working group with the Chinese embassy.

Through August, Ukraine’s seaports handled 5% more cargo than during the same period last year, reports the Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority. The 106 million tons of cargo breaks down as follows : exports +5.4%, to 81 million tons; imports +1%, to 16 million tons; transit +4.6%, to 7.3 million tons; cabotage +31%, to 1.6 million tons. The two main export product were nearly even: grain – 30.7 million tons; and metal ore – 30.2 million tons. Pig iron exports jumped 50%, to 2.3 million tons. Containers were up 9.2%, to 690,600.

Ukraine’s top five ports handled 91.5% of the nation’s cargo during the first eight months of this year, reports the Sea Ports Authority. Pivdennyi once again was the most dynamic, with its cargo levels growing by 25% yoy, to handle 42 million tons, or 40% of the nation’s total. This growth was at the expense of Ukraine’s next three busiest ports: Mykolaiv -10%, to 19.2 million tons; Odesa -7%, to 15.6 million tons; and Chornomorsk -1%, to 15.4 million tons. Strong growth was registered at the two Azov ports. Mariupol was up 21%, to 4.6 million tons. Berdyansk was up 33%, to 1.5 million tons.

Ukraine’s exports are recovering from last spring’s corona-recession. August exports were down only 1.6% yoy, “which in the context of a pandemic sounds like fantasy,” Taras Kachka, deputy minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture, writes on Facebook. “International trade is recovering at a much faster pace than after the 2008 crisis.”  For the first eight months of the year, exports are down 6.6%, to $31 billion. With imports down by 12.4%, the trade deficit through August is $1.3 billion, about one third the level of the same period last year.

Ukraine exports of corn, wheat, and barley will drop around 9% yoy, to 51 million tons, in the current marketing season, predicts Grainmart, India’s first Grain Trading B2B online marketplace. Based near New Delhi, Grainmart draws on figures from the Ukrainian Grain Association.

Two years after Saudi investors bought Ukraine’s troubled Mriya Agro Holding, a shipment of 60,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat is on its way to Saudi Arabia. In the first such shipment to Saudi Arabia in 12 years, a Panamax carrying Ukrainian grain from Chornomorsk arrives Sept. 17. In 2018, Saudi Agricultural Investment and Livestock Company, or Salic, bought Mriya and merged it with its existing Ukraine farms under an umbrella company, Ukrainian Continental Farmers Group. Georg von Nolcken, general director of Continental, says: “This is certainly a good indicator and a clear signal of serious investment intentions of Saudi Arabia in Ukraine.”

Poisoned Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has improved, doctors treating him in Berlin say. He is out of a medically-induced coma, is being weaned off a ventilator, and “is responding to verbal stimuli,” the doctors say at Charité, the Berlin hospital where he is being treated. Germany’s government has asked Russia’s government to explain why Navalny was poisoned with a military grade poison. Reaffirmed yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position is that Kremlin noncompliance with an investigation could force Germany to change its position on the $11 billion Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas line.

Germany May Not Even Need the Nord Stream Pipeline Right Now, headlines a Bloomberg analysis from Berlin. “Europe is flooded with gas and demand is likely to remain stable,” reads the energy market analysis. “With storage sites in Europe almost full, the European benchmark contract has more than halved since its peak in 2018.” With the rise of wind and solar and increasing energy efficiencies, Europe’s gas demand is to remain flat for the next five years, predicts the International Energy Agency. “If Nord Stream 2 is delayed only until the early 2020s, there would be no big impact,” said Katja Yafimava, senior research fellow at The Oxford Institute For Energy Studies.

“Has Vladimir Putin Poisoned His Pet Pipeline Project?” Diane Francis, an opponent of the gas line, asks in an Atlantic Council Ukraine blog.

Ukraine’s natural gas imports jumped 67% yoy in August, as EU gas traders filled Ukraine’s gas storage reservoirs to a record 84% of capacity. Traders store their gas in Ukraine, waiting for the traditional autumn rise in prices as Europe prepares for winter. For its own use, Ukraine’s Naftogaz had 26 billion cubic meters in storage on Saturday, 39% more than one year earlier.

Mikheil Saakashvili was chosen yesterday to lead an 11-party opposition coalition in Georgia’s Oct. 31 parliamentary elections. If the coalition wins, the former Georgian president would become prime minister. If the coalition loses, Saakashvili presumably would return to his Kyiv job: chairman of Ukraine’s National Reform Council. Levan Varshalomidze, former governor of Batumi and a longtime ally of Saakashvili, also took a sabbatical last week from his Ukraine job, board chairman of UkraineInvest.

Traffic at Boryspil was down 60% yoy in August, to 656,029 passengers, reports the Center for Transportation Strategies. Traffic on charter flights was down by only 9%, indicating that Kyiv residents cling to their package tours to Egypt and Turkey. By contrast, traffic on regular flights – largely to the EU and North America – was down by 78%. Traffic is expected to be even worse in September because the government has closed Ukraine to most foreign visitors for the month.

From the Editor: In its usual dispassionate way (no adjectives, please!), Bloomberg picks apart Nord Stream 2 and concludes that there is no economic rationale for doubling the existing Nord Stream gas line,  until 2030, if ever. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin drive toward the future while resolutely looking in the rearview mirror at yesterday’s fuel sources – coal, oil and gas. Better insight into the world’s energy future comes from checking this website: Quantum leaps in renewable technologies are being followed by quantum leaps in renewable investments. Russia’s $11 billion Nord Stream 2 risks looking like its $50 billion Sochi Olympics – another pyramid built for the Czar. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Friday, September 4

German Politicians Oppose Nord Stream II...Kyiv Court Ruling Threatens to Unravel PrivatBank Nationalization...Gov’t Approves Road Map for Cutting State Ownership of Banks...Key Interest Rate to stay at 6% this Year...One Third of Kyiv Metro Riders Stay Above Ground...
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

Political pressure is mounting on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to freeze or drop the Russia-Germany Nord Stream II pipeline project, according to  Bloomberg and The Financial Times reports from Berlin. The game changer was a report by a German military laboratory Tuesday that said Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned Aug. 20 by Novichok, the same restricted use, military-grade nerve agent used by Russian agents in Britain in 2018.

At stake is a $9.5 billion, 1,222 km, trans-Baltic pipeline designed to take gas directly from Russia to Germany. Capable of carrying 55 billion cubic meters of gas a year, this is designed to end Russia’s dependence on Ukraine’s Gas Transportation System. From 2021 to 2024, Gazprom is contracted send 40 bcm year through Ukraine, earning Ukraine about $1.5 billion a year.

With Navalny lying in an induced coma in Berlin’s Charité Hospital, a 10-minute walk from the Bundestag, the mood inside Germany’s parliament building has turned sharply against the Kremlin.

“The EU should jointly decide to stop Nord Stream,” tweeted Norbert Roettgen, Head of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a candidate to head Merkel’s Christian Democratic party. “The only language that Putin understands is the language of natural gas.”

Nils Schmid, foreign policy spokesman for the SPD, a junior partner in the Merkel coalition, said: “We need to make it clear that all talk of a strategic partnership with Russia is now over.”

Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal FDP party, said: “A regime that organizes murders by poisoning is no partner for big cooperative projects — and that includes pipeline projects.”

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, leader of the Greens in parliament, said: “Nord Stream 2 is no longer something we, together with Russia, can press ahead with.”

While Germans wait for Merkel’s move, Bild, Germany’s best-selling newspaper, calls on the Chancellor to “stop Putin’s pipeline.”

In Ukraine, Germany’s Ambassador Anka Feldhusen joined her G-7 counterparts yesterday to lobby Prime Minister Shmygal to defend PrivatBank against attempts to reverse the 2016 nationalization of the Ukraine’s largest bank. With EU and IMF support, $5.5 billion was injected into the bank in 2017, filling a hole left by what forensic auditors have called an orgy of insider lending and theft.

On Tuesday, a Kyiv court ruled that PrivatBank should pay $350 million – principal and interest – for deposits of six British companies owned by Ihor and Hryhoriy Surkis, two brothers who were business associates of PrivatBank’s former owners, Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Boholyubov.  PrivatBank lawyers said yesterday they will appeal, arguing that the brothers were related parties to the mismanagement of the bank. The Surkis and other depositors have filed hundreds of lawsuits suing for $1.2 billion.

We will challenge this decision,” Petr Krumphanzl, a Czech banker who is Board Chairman of PrivatBank, told Ukrinform. We will continue to seek justice for PrivatBank and Ukrainian taxpayers who are the bank’s ultimate shareholders.”

“One of the biggest transgressions in the history of the judicial power of Ukraine took place today,” Justice Minister Denis Malyuska wrote on Facebook. Noting that the judge’s name Vovk, also means ‘wolf’, he illustrated his complaint with a cartoon of a gray wolf happily carrying away a big bag of loot.

Alexander Danilyuk, Finance Minister at the time of the nationalization, warned on Facebook yesterday: “This is the beginning of the collapse of the results of the nationalization of PrivatBank.” He warned that if the lawsuits are not stopped, they could cost Ukraine’s government billions of dollars.

The Cabinet of Ministers has approved a strategy for steadily reducing the state share in Ukrainian banking, from 60% today, to below 25% in 2025. By the end of next year, all four state banks are to draw up road maps for the sale of public shares.

  • Ukrgasbank is to reach an agreement with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation next month about converting last year’s €30 million loan into shares. Ukrgasbank will probably be the first state bank to be privatized.
  • Oschadbank should be privatized by 2025.
  • PrivatBank is to gradually shed government ownership.
  • Ukreximbank is to be matched with a minority investor, chosen by the Finance Ministry, with the long-term goal of privatization.

The Finance Ministry reported that Ukraine’s state-owned banks wrote off $1 billion worth of non-performing loans at the expense of reserves during the first half of this year. For state banks, non-performing loans account for 63% of their loan portfolios. As of July 1, there are 57,000 outstanding claims by state banks in courts to reclaim $1.4 billion in assets.

Almost overlooked in the furor of the Surkis case, Ukraine’s central bank met expectations yesterday and kept the prime lending rate at 6%. Dmitry Sologub, a deputy governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, predicted to reporters yesterday: “We expect the interest rate to remain at 6% by the end of the year.” Two months ago, when President Zelenskiy installed his candidate, Kyrylo Shevchenko, a central bank governor, many analysts thought the shakeup was made to lower interest rates this fall.

Now, Tim Ash and others are having second thoughts. He writes from London: “The reality is dawning that pressure to make management changes at the NBU was never really about monetary and exchange rate policy, but rather the durability of banking reform. The real battleground remains Privatbank. I think we got another hard lesson in that last night with the Surkis ruling.”

The central bank “expects an IMF [review] mission in the near future and plans to receive more money from the IMF by the end of the year,” Shevchenko, the Bank Governor told reporters yesterday. Ash reacted: “Very optimistic in my view given backtracking on banking reform and anti-corruption agenda. I cannot see an IMF mission before local elections in October.”

The Finance Ministry sold the Hryvnia equivalent of $102 million in bonds at this week’s auction – three times the borrowings of last week. The only bill that sold – a 13-month bond – went with a weighted average interest rate of 9.29%.

UIA is scheduling a direct Kyiv Boryspil – New York JFK – Kyiv Boryspil flight next Wednesday. With a one-way fare of $482, the Boeing leaves Kyiv at noon on Sept. 9. After a 2-hour turnaround in New York, the plane takes off again for Ukraine, leaving at 5:45 pm New York time. Tickets can only be bought through the UIA site.

Three months after the end of Kyiv’s full corona lockdown, daily metro ridership is about one million, down by one third from the pre-lockdown volume 1.5 million. Normally, the Kyiv’s subway system earns $10 million a month. Due to the spring lockdown and today’s week ridership, the Metro may run out of money to pay salaries next month, the transit system reports in an appeal to the Kyiv City Council for more money.

From the Editor: Putin may have gone a bridge too far in apparently trying to kill his chief political opponent Alexei Navalny. If today’s mood in Germany’s Bundestag translates into action, underwater archeologists may ponder this mystery a few centuries hence: What ancient civilization built an empty steel pipe running 1,200 km down the Baltic sea bed? Was it a religious totem? An attempt to communicate with extra terrestrial cultures?  With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Thursday, September 3

Russian Gas Transit Volumes Dwindle...Greece, Romania, Turkey: New Gas Sources for Ukraine...Turkey, Ukraine Create Alliance For Defense Production...Glencore Buys Sunflower Oil Tank Farm and Terminal in Mykolaiv...Hot Weather Makes the Case for Irrigation in Kherson and Odesa...
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

Signaling the end of an era, the volume of Russian gas crossing Ukraine on the Soviet-era pipeline system is down 42% compared to the same January-August period last year. Under the Dec. 30 contract, Russia’s Gazprom committed to shipping 65 billion cubic meters across Ukraine, down from the 2019 level of 89.6 bcm. Gazprom is paying full freight, but it is only shipping 80% of booked capacity. Under the contract, Gazprom will ship even less starting next year — 40 bcm annually through 2014. For the last 30 years, Ukraine’s gas transmission system has been a big money earner – about $3 billion a year in fees.

The biggest drops this year are on Ukraine’s southern route to Moldova and Romania. On this ‘trans-Balkan route,’ gas shipments are down 73%, to 2.3 bcm for the first eight months. The game changer was the Jan. 8 opening of Turkish Stream. This line brings Russian gas up from the south, skirting Ukraine.

As Europe’s pipelines become increasingly inter-connected, ERU Trading, an American company, sent a test gas shipment in July from Revithoussa, Greece’s LNG terminal, on the Aegean Sea, through Romania to Ukraine. Hailing the possibilities of “the new gas transmission corridor Greece-Romania-Ukraine,” Yaroslav Mudryy, managing partner of ERU Trading, said: “Traditionally, gas and oil are exported from the East to the West, but our partners are interested in a new, unconventional approach.”

As part of this newly liberalized market, 72 traders – a mix of European and Ukrainian companies – parked a total of 8.2 bcm of gas in Ukrainian reservoirs this summer, waiting for the annual rise in prices in the fall. With 65% of gas coming into western Ukraine this summer going into storage for further transit, Serhiy Makogon, general director of Ukraine’s Gas Transit System Operator, said: This means that Ukraine is geopolitically and economically an interesting and profitable partner for Europe. Therefore, the GTS Operator will continue to work on the business development of its capabilities, including the direction of creating a European gas hub in Ukraine.”

Well prepared for the winter heating season, Naftogaz has stored 25.6 bcm of its own gas, 39% more than this time last year. By the Nov. 1 start of the heating season, Naftogaz may have a record 28 bcm in storage, 29% more than last year, Nafotgaz CEO Andriy Kobolev said Tuesday on Ukraina 24 TV. In last winter’s 4-month heating season, Ukraine consumed only 6 bcm.

President Zelenskiy has called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on the discovery of a large natural gas field in Turkish waters off the Black Sea coast. Erdogan estimates the field at 320 bcm. This is the equivalent of 10 years of Turkey’s gas imports and 30 years of Ukraine’s imports. After the Turkish drilling ship, Fatih, made the discovery last month, Erdogan promised to start developing the field immediately.

Turkey and Ukraine are creating “a strategic alliance” for defense production, Oleh Urusky, Ukraine’s Strategic Industries Minister, tells Ukrinform. In late August, Urusky led a group that toured Turkish defense factories, met with defense industry leaders and met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We are actively moving towards a strategic alliance — aircraft construction, armor production, missile construction, electronic warfare, instrument making (opto-electronics) and engine building,” Urusky told Ukraine’s state-owned news agency. One project could be joint development of a strike drone fighter, with a Ukrainian turbojet engine. Turkey, a NATO nation, has a 430-year rivalry with Russia for control of the Black Sea.

Glencore, the agricultural commodities giant, has bought Everi, one of Ukraine’s largest vegetable oil export terminals. Built a decade ago in Mykolaiv, Everi was expanded in 2018 to have tanks capable of holding 160,000 tons  and a pumping capacity of 1.5 million tons of oil into seagoing ships for export. From the Netherlands, Glencore Agriculture Limited CEO David Mattiske said of the purchase from Orexim: “This acquisition reinforces our long term commitment to the agriculture sector in Ukraine.”

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority is the biggest shareholder in Glencore. Two weeks ago, QTerminals, Qatar’s multinational port operator, signed a concession agreement to run Mykolaiv’s Olvia port, 15 km down river from the Everi terminal. Qatar Investment Authority is not a shareholder in QTerminals.

Dry weather and drought, especially in southern Ukraine, will cut this year’s grain harvest by 7 million tons, or 9% below last year’s bumper harvest of 75 million tons, Prime Minister Shmygal told the Cabinet yesterday. The ongoing corn harvest is coming in 1 million tons short. With corn expected to fall to 35 million tons, the Ukrainian Grain Association forecasts the nation’s total grain and oilseeds harvest will be 95.6 million tons, the second largest in Ukraine’s history. Exports will be 56 million tons.

Next year the government plans to channel “Big Construction” spending into “the creation of irrigation systems in the southern regions of Ukraine,” Prime Minister Shmygal told the Cabinet yesterday. “Such systems should increase yields and protect farmers from adverse weather conditions.” With temperatures rising in southern Ukraine, President Zelenskiy has called for rebuilding Soviet-era irrigation systems and creating new ones. The government estimates the drought cost Odesa farmers $235 million in lost crop receipts.

Starting this month, up to €120 million in loan money for rural infrastructure, including irrigation, is available for small and medium farmers in southern Kherson region. The money is part of a larger, €400 million rural lending facility extended to the area by the European Investment Bank, reports Stefan Rosenow, team leader for the project. Separately, the EBRD is working with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to modernize irrigation systems of the lower Dniester in Odesa region.

Today, the National Bank of Ukraine is likely to keep the prime interest rate at the current level of 6%, indicate separate polls of economists and bankers by Reuters and Interfax Ukraine. With a 5.9% increase in the minimum wage approved Tuesday by the Rada, analysts predict annual inflation will double, to 4.9% in December. Many forecasts “point to a significant acceleration of inflation over the horizon of 6-9 months,” Oleksiy Blinov of Alfa-Bank Ukraine tells Reuters. “This indicates a high probability of completion of the stage of reducing the discount rate in Ukraine.” From a recent high of 18% in April 2019, the prime rate steadily dropped, hitting 6% last June.

From the Editor: Look up “Russo-Turkish War” in Wikipedia, and you can take your pick between the First (1568-1570) and the Twelfth (World War 1). Obviously, modern relations are more complex. Turkey’s dependence on Russian gas is a restraining factor. But around the old Ottoman Empire, Turkey and Russia find themselves on opposite sides — in the civil wars of Syria and Libya. In the 2020s, it makes geostrategic sense for Ukraine to work closely with its large southern neighbor. Often underestimated, Turkey has twice the population and twice the GNP of the neighbor Ukraine normally uses as a reference point and ally – Poland. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, August 2

Ryanair Cuts Most Flights Between EU and Ukraine...PM Sees 50% Jump in Ukraine Corona Cases...Antonov-Turkey Talks on JV for Cargo Jet...Pro-Russia MP’s Want Court to Turn Back the Clock...Honcharuk: Washington Think Tanker - Volker: Kyiv Train Engineer...
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

Ryanair, Europe’s largest low cost carrier, has canceled almost all its flights to Ukraine for the second half of September, the airline’s booking system shows, reports Evropeiska Pravda. With 52 routes from Ukraine to EU cities, Ryanair is moving preemptively ahead of EU regulations that require full repayment for tickets for flight cancelled within two weeks of travel dates. Ryanair’s booking system shows only a handful of flights between Kyiv Boryspil and Cyprus, Spain and the UK. There are no flights from the four other Ukrainian cities previously served by Ryanair: Kharkiv, Kherson, Lviv and Odesa.

UIA, Ukraine’s largest carrier, has cancelled or reduced frequencies for a long list of flights. Signaling that it believes that the ban on most foreign visitors will last until the Oct. 25 local elections, UIA is cutting its flight program through Oct. 24. Compared to the planned schedule, UIA seem to cut about half of its seats in and out of Ukraine this fall.

Kyiv hotel owners and tour guides protested last Friday outside the Cabinet of Ministers saying the new one-month ban on most foreigners entering Ukraine is a heavy blow to tourism, an industry which has struggled since the first Covid lockdown in mid-March. One Kyiv hotel owner told the UBN that he knows of three business groups that cancelled their trips to Ukraine this month. Inside the government building, a senior official said that legitimate business people arriving at Boryspil this month will be admitted.

Prime Minister Shmygal expects that within one month Ukraine’s Covid-19 cases will be 50% higher than today. “Today we have from 2,000 to 2,500 new cases of the disease every day,” he told 1+1 television channel yesterday. “By the end of September and early October, this figure will rise to 3,000 patients every day. This will load hospitals by more than 80%.” Government officials are talking about test trials for a vaccine in November and mass vaccinations in March. It is unclear where this vaccine will come from.

Ducking the issue: Ukraine’s Antimonopoly Committee has declined to consider an application by Kharkiv’s DCH Group to purchase Motor Sich shares from China’s Skyrizon to run the Zaporizhia aircraft engine factory as a Chinese-Ukraine joint venture. The decision was made public yesterday, five days after US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called President Zelenskiy and warned about “malign” Chinese investment. DCH, which also makes tractors, complained that the Committee’s requested information “not related to the core business” of the jet engine maker. DCH asked: Can Motor Sich “potato planters, potato diggers, harrows, plows, cultivators, mounted rotary mowers” be attached to DCH tractors?

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy writes: “The Antimonopoly Committee has been trying to avoid any decision on the Skyrizon / Motor Sich deal for about three years, and its latest move indicates it is trying to continue postponing the solution for as long as possible…such uncertainty might be harmful for Motor Sich’s future as a going concern.”

Kyiv’s Antonov is negotiating joint production with Turkey of its short range An-178 military cargo jets, reports Turkey’s Daily Sabah, a pro-government daily. Oleksandr Los, Antonov’s new CEO, visited Turkey last month for talks. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tells CNN Türk that both governments “want to start more daring projects. Projects where Turkish and Ukrainian technologies are used together. These will be competitive projects in the global sense.”

Turkey’s new import tariffs on 115 goods are spurring Turkey and Ukraine to restart talks for a Free Trade Agreement. The two economy ministers, Ruhsar Pekcan for Turkey, and Igor Petrashko, for Ukraine talked week. Taras Kachka, deputy economy minister, writes on Facebook that he will travel to Ankara in coming days to advance talks. Two weeks ago, Turkey hiked tariffs by 15 to 20% for the goods that are non-EU.

In a key anti-corruption case watched by the IMF, Artem Sytnyk insists he is still director of the National Anticorruption Bureau, NABU. Last Thursday, days after NABU released audio recordings where judges appeared to discuss corruption plots involving including rulings Constitutional Court rulings, the Court ruled that President Poroshenko violated the Constitution five years ago, when he appointed Sytnyk as NABU director. Although President Zelenskiy now calls Sytnyk ‘acting director,’ legal experts say Sytnyk can only be removed by a Rada vote.

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy writes Monday: “It looks like there is a high chance for Sytnyk to remain at his position till the end of his seven-year term, which expires in spring 2022.”

The Constitutional Court acted in response to a petition by 51 MPs, many of the same pro-Kremlin or pro-Kolomoiskiy Rada members, who successfully asked the Court to open five proceedings aimed at Ukrainian anti-corruption legislation, Tetiana Shevchuk, legal counsel at Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, writes in a new Atlantic Council essay: “Pro-Kremlin MPs and Oligarchs Wage Lawfare on Ukraine’s Reform Agenda.” She writes of the Court decision on NABU’d director: “Anti-corruption activists fear the decision could now pave the way for a host of similar legal verdicts with the potential to undermine Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration and reverse the progress made since the country’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity.”

Bonanza for TV stations and billboard owners: The Central Election Commission announces that campaigns for mayors and city councils officially start this Saturday. With the coronavirus pandemic ruling out large gatherings, advertising is expected to play a central role in campaigning leading up the Oct. 25 vote.

On the Move:

Former Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk joins the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center as a distinguished fellow, the Washington-based organization tweets. The youngest prime minister in Ukraine’s history, Honcharuk, then aged 35, led the government during the first six months of President Zelenskiy’s five-year term. Zelenskiy dropped Honcharuk on March 4 as part of a wider purge of the cabinet.

Kurt Volker, who served until last September as the State Department’s Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, joined BGS Rail yesterday as an independent board member of the Kyiv-based car leasing company. Volker also will advise the chairman and board of directors of BGS’ parent company, Avia Solutions Group, a company of Lithuanian origins. In Ukraine, BGS, or Baltic Ground Services, has 3,000 wagons for transporting coal, iron ore and grain. Volker said in an Avia press release: “By working with Avia Solutions Group in its development of BGS Rail, I see an opportunity to strengthen Ukraine’s economy, build world-class services, and create jobs for Ukrainian citizens.”

From the Editor: The UBN is pleased to announce that CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang Ukraine has agreed to sponsor the Ukraine Business News. It is great to see such a prestigious international law firm support independent business news in Ukraine, Europe’s next frontier market. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Monday, August 31

Corona Chaos on Roads Tomorrow as Parents Drive Kids to School...Aside From Banning Foreign Visitors, No Lockdown Expected Before Oct. 25 Elections...This Fall: Shakeup of Economic Ministries?..China and Ukraine Cuddle; Pompeo Pouts...
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

Large traffic jams are expected in Kyiv and Ukraine’s big cities tomorrow as schools reopen for Ukraine’s 3.8 million primary and secondary school children. In the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic, 7,743 Ukrainian children were infected. Mass transit ridership is down and more parents than normal are expected to drive their children to school. Kabanchik, an online platform for ordering services, reports that its requests for driving teachers almost doubled this in June and July, to 786. Olga Soroka, head of marketing told Interfax-Ukraine, earlier this month: “They are learning to drive in advance.”

On Saturday, Ukraine registered a record 2,481 new Corona infections, a number that dipped to 2,096 on Sunday. Since March 17, more than 2,500 Ukrainians have died corona complications. Kyiv, the nation’s capital, continues to report the largest number of infections. On Saturday, Mayor Klitschko reported that infections in Kyiv over the previous 24 hours, totaled 265, including 19 children.

Although infection rates are double the level of April, when the country was under tight lockdown, life in most of Ukraine is largely normal. Last night, Kyiv’s first opera concert in six months, drew about 2,500 people to Sofia Square. About 1,500 sat on chairs spaced for distancing. The rest listened standing, some wearing masks, some not.

The Government will not consider imposing a second hard lockdown to combat coronavirus, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told the European Business Association in a video conference on Friday. Instead, health officials will seek to localize outbreaks and stamp them out with local quarantines.

Adamant Capital writes: “Although Ukraine is currently displaying the highest amount of new cases on record, it seems unlikely that restrictions similar to those that have been introduced at the start of the pandemic are going to be reinstalled any time soon. Reasons for these are a few as lethality has significantly declined globally. Spain in so far reporting deaths per million at just 0.7, a far cry from 18.5 back at the beginning of April.  The 2Q20 real GDP figure (-11.4% YoY) has demonstrated quite clearly the cost of an even relatively light lockdown and suggests that repeating the same scenario may be politically unaffordable unless the health crisis becomes dire.”

Foreign business travelers flying to Ukraine should carry a letter clearly attesting to the business purposes of their visits, listing local contacts. Until the one-month ban is lifted September 28, entry is up to the discretion of border control officers at Ukraine’s airports and land entry points. Without warning, Ukraine’s government advanced the ban by one day to Friday morning, causing chaos at Kyiv Boryspil.

Separately, hundreds of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims ignored requests by Israel and Ukraine and flew to Ukraine for their annual Jewish New Year celebration, in mid-September. Israel has the world’s 7th highest rate for corona virus infection – 231/100,000 people. This is four times higher than Ukraine’s rate of 55/100,000 people.

Coronavirus money is being spent on building roads to avoid borrowing money for this year’s $3 billion road building program, David Arakhamia, head of the ruling Servant of the People faction in the Rada, tells Ukraina 24 TV. Noting that the government plans to repair or rebuild 4,200 km of roads this year, he implied roadbuilding is more popular than virus fighting. Elections for mayors and city councils will be held Oct. 25.

With economic ministries targeted, two to three Cabinet ministers may lose their jobs this fall, Arakhamia tells Ukraina 24. “By the fall there may definitely be some rotations in individual ministries — two or three ministries,” he predicts. “Our people are most of all dissatisfied with the economic bloc. We need people who, besides having a vision and programs, could quickly implement them.” Six months ago, President Zelenskiy fired two thirds of his cabinet.

China and Ukraine have agreed to increase bilateral trade and to identify joint projects in farming, infrastructure, energy, and energy conservation, reports the press service of Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture. Noting that China is now Ukraine’s top trading partner, China’s Deputy International Trade Representative Yu Jianhua and Ukraine’s Trade Representative Taras Kachka talked Thursday by video conference.

In coming weeks, the Kharkiv Metro is to sign a contract with China’s CRRC Tangshan for 40 new rail cars, a 13% percent increase in the fleet of Ukraine’s second largest subway system. With the new cars, the Metro will have eight one-piece ‘tube trains,’ without partitions between the five cars, reports the Center for Transportation Strategies.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo warned President Zelenskiy about “malign” Chinese investment in Ukraine, including Beijing’s efforts to acquire the Motor Sich aircraft engine maker. The warning came in a telephone call Wednesday with President Zelenskiy, State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. For a year, the US has sought to block a Chinese takeover of the jet engine maker. After US investors failed to materialize, Kharkiv business man Alexander Yaroslavky filed an application in early August to buy the engine building company in partnership with Beijing Skyrizon.

Ukraine has frozen diplomatic contacts with Belarus and joined the EU in condemning the recent presidential election as not free or fair, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters Friday, Reuters reports. “We put all contacts on pause until the situation in Belarus stabilizes,” Kuleba said. He noted that Ukraine had earlier recalled its ambassador to Belarus for negotiations. Belarus is Ukraine’s fourth largest trading partner.


The EBA has moved from its longtime office in Kyiv’s Podil neighborhood to the new Creative State of Arsenal coworking center on Moskovska 8, building 7, a five-minute walk from the Arsenalna Metro station on the Red Line. After 15 years in a building that grew to have workplaces for 70 employees, the EBA says it has moved to a smaller workspace that features hot desking and “modern infrastructure for meetings and negotiations.” Executive Director Anna Derevyanka notes: “Mobility and flexibility have become a new trend of today…We are changing to become even more flexible, fast, and modern in order to create maximum opportunities for all EBA member companies.”

After opening the 4,100 square meter Creative State of Arsenal in May, Ilya Kenigstein, founder of the coworking space network, says work is starting this fall on a second 3,100 square meter phase. The two recycled brick buildings will be connected by a bridge and will share parking, an event hall, and open area with art installations. Added to existing spaces in Gulliver and Senator business centers, Creative States will have 15,000 square meters in Kyiv.

Today, the Kyiv Post moves into a spacious new, 455-square meter space provided by publisher Adnan Kivan, owner of KADORR Group, the Odesa-based real estate development company. The Post trades its cramped space of the last eight years, on Pushkinska, for a glass-walled, open space in a largely residential building, at 68 Zhylianska, between Pankivska and Tarasivka. Post editor Brian Bonner writes: “While much of the Kyiv Post workforce is still working remotely, the era of the office is far from dead.” The new newsroom will have 48 work spaces and a video studio. The only downside will be the 20-minute walk to the nearest metro station.

From the Editor: Last week, the UBN signed a sponsorship contract with a multinational law firm. In light of future expansion this fall, we may take on a research assistant. If you are interested in Ukraine and business, please email me your resume:  With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Friday, August 28

Belarus Economic Drop Could Hit Ukraine...US Cybersecurity Expert En Route Ukraine Arrested as Spy for Russia...After 100 Days, Saakashvili Quits Reform Council to Go Home to Georgia...Ze Promises Peace by Christmas...Facing Tonight’s Ban on Foreign Travelers, UIA Cuts Flights...
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

The standoff between Belarus’ long-running ruler and mass opposition may soon cripple the finances of Ukraine’s northern neighbor and fourth largest trading partner. In the last week, the Belarusian ruble weakened by 8.5%, falling to 2.67 to the dollar. Belarus’ foreign currency reserves are down to $4.3 billion –“sufficient to cover just 1.4 months of imports, while three months is considered the minimum,” economist Anders Aslund writes in a new Atlantic Council piece: “Belarus Crisis: Can Lukashenka Survive a Collapsing Currency?”

Strikes are affecting three of four key state companies — fertilizer makers Belaruskali and Grodno Azot and oil refineries Naftan and Mozyr. They account for two thirds of Belarus’ exports to the West. “A prolonged strike at any of these four state-owned companies would collapse Belarusian export revenues and the Belarusian ruble, bringing Lukashenko to his knees,” writes Aslund, a Swedish-American economist with three decades experience in the ex-USSR. “If the currency collapses, the real strife will start.”

Ukraine is Belarus’ second largest trading partner, after Russia, Dmitry Chervyakov, a consultant with Berlin Economics, tells the Kyiv Post. Last year, Belarus exported $4.1 billion in goods to Ukraine and imported $1.7 billion. Ukraine bought four million tons of diesel and bitumen from Belarus for $2.4 billion and fertilizers for $300 million, largely from Belaruskali, the potash producer. Many of Belarus’ imports from Ukraine are transshipped to Russia to skirt bilateral Russia-Ukraine trade bans.

Lithuania is preparing to route Ukraine-bound trucks through eastern Poland if traffic disruptions start in Belarus, Yaroslav Narkevich, Lithuania’s Minister of Transport and Communications, tells Russian Railways Partner site. “We intend to discuss with Poland the option of returning our carriers through Poland, bypassing Belarus,” he said.  “So far there is no need to redirect the flow of trucks, but we are ready for this.” On Aug. 5, four days before the disputed Belarus presidential election, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers had approved for Rada debate a liberalization law that would abolish the need for international trucking permits for Belarus-Ukraine trade.

Ukraine has “tightened control” at Ukraine-Belarus border crossings in wake of Lukashenko’s charges that Ukraine is trying to destabilize his regime. “We have tightened control at the border with Belarus, since the situation in this country is quite turbulent,” Border Guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko told RBK-Ukraine.

Starting Tuesday, Ukrainians can only enter Belarus with a foreign passport, reminds Ukraine’s Border Guard Service. A similar rule went into effect six months ago for travel to Russia. The government is trying to phase out the domestic passport paper booklets, which are easy to counterfeit.

In an open letter signed by more than 2,500 Belarusian IT CEOs, investors and developers, democratic normalcy is essential for the future of the industry in Belarus. Otherwise, they warn: “In the near future, we will begin to observe a massive outflow of specialists abroad, the opening of offices in neighboring countries, a slowdown in the growth of the IT sector, a decrease in investment in Belarusian IT companies, and a decrease in tax revenues.”

Japanese-owned tech company Rakuten Viber has closed its office last week in Minsk. San Francisco-based Rakuten CEO Djamel Agaoua cited violence against employees in Minsk. Kharkiv and other Ukrainian IT centers are recruiting Belarusian developers to move to Ukraine.

The day before he was to fly to Ukraine, a former US Army Green Beret captain was arrested and accused Friday of spying for Russia for the last 15 years. Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, aged 45, had repeated meeting with Russia’s G.RU., or military intelligence, according to the Alexandria, Virginia grand jury indictment posted by The New York Times. By 2010, the Washington Post reports, Debbins had left the Army and was working for a Ukrainian steel manufacturer in Minnesota. Then his Russian intelligence agents encouraged him to get back into government work.

Last spring, Debbins taught a webinar for Ukrainian-American Concordia University. He was billed as an instructor for Cyber Intelligence Initiative of Washington’s Institute for World Politics. The course was titled: “How to Approach Enterprise Cybersecurity!” In a congratulatory YouTube video, he urges graduates to have “a hacker’s mindset.”

Russia’s Gamaredon hacking group has prepared “a large coordinated attack on government agencies and critical infrastructure” by sending out email attachments infected with malware, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council warned last week. The goal may be to disrupt the Oct. 25 local elections. Phony emails were made to look like messages from Ukraine’s State Security Service. Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov warns: “Cyberthreats from the Russian Federation are extremely dangerous for both Ukraine and European countries.”

So far this year, one million cases of cyber threats — website attacks, DDoS attacks, phishing and malicious software – have been recorded by the National Coordination Center for Cybersecurity, a unit of the Defense Council. To respond to threats and prevent attacks, the Center is stepping up cooperation with private sector companies. Last month, it signed cooperation agreements with three dozen private foreign and Ukrainian companies.

The Zelenskiy government is tripling the number of state companies protected from privatization – to 659. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the new list Wednesday. It will now go to the Rada. Last year, the Rada abolished a similar list of over 1,000 companied exempt from privatization.

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a major free market force in the Zelenskiy government, announced yesterday that he is returning home to Georgia, reports Georgia Online.  “I know that we can live much cooler, much better, and every Georgian can be rich, and we can do it together!” he says in a video. “I’m coming back!”

Appointed three months ago to serve as chairman of Ukraine’s National Reform Council, Saakashvili felt the push of anti-reformers in the Zelenskiy government and the lure of Oct. 31 parliamentary elections in Georgia. Responding to negative reactions, Saakashvili posted on Facebook: “Some of my Ukrainian friends mourn my ‘farewell’ to Ukraine. I want to tell them: heads up! We will fight both in Georgia and in Ukraine! We will win there and there!”

In Tbilisi, Thea Tsulukiani, Georgia’s Justice Minister since 2012, promised to prepare a jail cell for the former president. In 2018, Saakashvili was convicted in absentia in two trials on charges stemming from his decade in office, from 2004 to 2013. The sentences handed down by Tbilisi City Court total nine years. Saakashvili and his supporters say the trials were politically motivated.

President Zelenskiy believes the current one-month-old ceasefire in the Donbas can be extended into a lasting peace by the end of this year. “I want to believe that it will be this year,” he tells Eurovnews’ Sasha Vakulina in a lengthy video interview. “I really want to believe it, and I DO believe, I do.”

Zelenskiy also asks European leaders to spell out the steps for Ukraine to join the EU. “I asked many European leaders this question – what do you want Ukrainians to do, step by step, to become an EU member?” he said in the interview posted Tuesday. Calling on Ukraine to speed up adoption of EU norms, he said: “We just have to become the country that Europe really would want.”

Travel companies plan to protest today the ban on incoming foreign travelers. The 1-month ban goes into effect tonight at midnight. Chornobyl tour operators, organizers of medical tourism, the Business Travel Association and owners foreigner friendly night clubs, such as Skybar, Closer and River Port, plan to gather outside the Cabinet of Ministers. Using the hashtag #OpenUkraineNow to coordinate the protest, the Association of Incoming Tour Operators says that after temperature controls started two months ago at airports, there are no known cases of infected tourists entering Ukraine. The ban is on nationals from all countries, not just the 65 countries deemed ‘red’ by Ukraine’s Health Ministry.

Kyiv Boryspil, Ukraine’s busiest airport, is installing this week a $37,000 temperature screening system that allows border guards to identify passengers with fever systems as they walk past a stationary camera. “It enables instant, non-contact temperature measurement of passengers from a distance,” the State Border Service said of the EU-donated equipment.

Noting that foreigners currently account for 60% of UIA’s passengers, UIA said yesterday it is cancelling flights in September between Kyiv and Athens, Barcelona, Berlina, Chisinau, Delhi, Geneva and Madrid. It will reduce frequencies between Kyiv and Brussels, Dusseldorf, Dubai, Istanbul, Paris and Tel Aviv. UIA CEO Yevhen Dykhne says the government ban “will have a negative impact on the aviation industry of Ukraine, which in the absence of any other state support in the crisis caused by the global pandemic, is economically weakened and is in critical condition.”

From the Editor: Assuming the US grand jury indictment is true, the Kremlin once again is playing a diabolical game. With one hand, Russia launches cyberattacks against Ukraine. With the other, it sends a compromised American to infiltrate Ukraine’s cyber security world.  It all reminds me of the gee whiz stories in the US financial press a decade ago about Eugene Kaspersky. This graduate of a KGB-sponsored technical college, amazingly, had reinvented himself as the CEO of rare Russian multinational. But in 2015, Bloomberg reported “high-level [Kaspersky] managers have left or been fired, their jobs often filled by people with closer ties to Russia’s military or intelligence services.” US government agencies quietly banned the use of Kaspersky cyber security and anti-virus software. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, August 27 – Ukraine shuts its borders to foreign travelers for one month

Borders Close Tomorrow Night to Incoming Foreigners…Ukrainian Railways gets new CEO….MinFin Keeps Rates Low….More Loan Money for Small Biz….Zelenskiy Pledges help for Yuzhmash….Retail Up...Work Starts News Month on Dnipro Airport...
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 shuts its borders to foreign travelers for one month, starting tomorrow night at midnight. The major exceptions are: foreigners with Ukraine residence permits, diplomats, travelers in transit, students enrolling in universities, truck drivers and airline crews. The ban is designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Shmyhal said yesterday after the weekly Cabinet of Ministers meeting. Starting Tuesday, the government bans discos, nightclubs and concerts in ‘green’ zones.

Ukraine’s Health Ministry has expanded its list of ‘red zone’ coronavirus countries to 65, adding Albania and Montenegro. Red zone countries have a 14-day infection rate higher than Ukraine’s level of 55/100,000 population. Travelers arriving from a red zone country must have full health insurance and undergo self-isolation until they test negative for the virus. The bilingual list can be found here.

With Ukraine’s schools scheduled to open on Tuesday, President Zelenskiy warned families to take precautions, noting that his 7-year-old son, Kyrylo, was hospitalized last month for coronavirus complications, along with his mother, Olena Zelenska. “No one is afraid of it until it reaches your family,” the president said. “I will speak plainly — this coronavirus is a real plague. There is no other word for it. My wife was affected, and so was my son.”

Law enforcement authorities in Chernivtsi, one of the country’s hardest hit red zones, decide to suspend the operation public transport, according to Ukrinform citing Deputy Mayor of Chernivtsi Dmytro. “Despite the decision taken by the city council, the police stopped and suspended public transport in Chernivtsi.”

Adamant Capital writes: Although Ukraine is currently displaying the highest amount of new cases on record, it seems unlikely that restrictions similar to those that have been introduced at the start of the pandemic are going to be reinstalled any time soon…the 2Q20 real GDP figure (-11.4% YoY) has demonstrated quite clearly the cost of an even relatively light lockdown and suggests that repeating the same scenario may be politically unaffordable unless the health crisis becomes dire.”

Volodymyr Zhmak will be the new CEO of Ukrainian Railways, the nation’s largest employer and a major economic player, the Cabinet of Ministers announced yesterday. Zhmak was previously a member of the Supervisory Board of the Boryspil Airport and has served as Deputy Chairman of the Odessa Regional State Administration. He also worked as an advisor to the president of Kyivstar, the Ukrainian mobile telephone company.

Passenger transport volume was down 41% yoy in July, reports ICU. In cities, transport was at 70-80% of last year’s levels. But rail was 38% of 2019 levels and air was only 18% of July 2019.

Retail turnover was up 8.5% yoy in July. However, wholesale trade fell by 6% yoy after the surge by 12% yoy in June, according to ICU.

Alfa-Bank Ukraine writes: “Retail trade provides a strong positive surprise in July. The sector accelerated to a growth of 8.5% y-o-y, already close to its pre-COVID trajectory. For comparison, we expected acceleration only to 3-4%…most of the unexpected boost was concentrated in the City of Kyiv, while many other regions indeed experienced less striking recovery in July…many residents of the capital stayed at home instead of spending abroad…This speculation is also supported by the fact that Odesa and Mykolaiv regions…were also the ones which experienced significant retail trade acceleration in July.”

The Finance Ministry placed UAH 816 million ($29.8 million) in 3-month local currency bonds at 7% and $31 million in 12-month hard currency bonds at 3.5%.

Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko writes of Tuesday’s weekly auction: “The local bond market is in its traditional summer vacation lethargy. However, there is no guarantee that the next month will bring much of a revival to the market. The government is likely to have difficulty in its attempts to increase UAH auction receipts while keeping interest rates at the current level, as most market players apparently find them too low.

Prime Minister Denis Shmygal pledges $328 million more for Ukraine’s “5-7-9% affordable loan program” to prop up small businesses, the head of government announced on Facebook. He writes: “Small business owners need affordable resources to support their own business during the crisis. At the same time, there are new opportunities, so UAH 1 billion was spent on investment needs. We expect that this year we will have 7, 9 and even more billion hryvnias issued in the form of affordable loans for Ukrainian entrepreneurs.”

President Zelenskiy pledges support for Yuzhmash, the state-owned machine-building company that manufactures products for defense, aviation, agriculture, thermal power, and space industries. Visiting his native Dnipropetrovsk region, the President said: “We are ready to do everything possible to make Yuzhmash a Ukrainian brand and return the attention of various Western investors interested in its products.”

Construction on Dnipro airport’s new 3,000 meter runway will start next month, President Zelenskiy said yesterday on a visit to the city. Reviewing the tender schedule, he said: “I am sure that by the end of September we will see work on the airport.” Alexander Bondarenko, head of Dnipropetrovsk regional administration, added that DCH, the Kharkiv-based group, also will start work next month at the airport, building a new terminal.

Ukraine pays one of the highest electricity prices in Europe, according to the EU — €46.9  per MWh, while the European average was €33.5 per MWh. Countries paying the most are: Greece at €50 per MWh, Malta at €45 per MWh, Bulgaria €42 per MWh, Romania at €41 per MWh, Hungary and Poland €41 per MWh. The lowest are: Norway at €15 per MWh and Sweden at €17 per MWh.

Industrial output is down 4.8% yoy in July, according to the State Statistics Service. This represents a slight improvement from the 5.6% yoy drop recorded in June.

Food production is up 4.6% yoy in July, according to the State Statistics Service.

NBU board chairman Bohdan Danylyshyn says he thinks the disbursement of two tranches from the IMF in 2020 is unrealistic, Ukrinform reports. “Obviously, the baseline scenario of receiving two tranches by the end of this year – in September and December – is unrealistic. We can most likely expect the receipt of one tranche in the fourth quarter of 2020,” he says.

At the same time, Danylyshyn says “cooperation with the IMF will continue. Support from international partners remains one of the most important factors of macrofinancial stability in Ukraine. The planned revision of the program with the IMF, in my opinion, should be accompanied by a revision of the conceptual framework for cooperation and its focus on support for the national interests of Ukraine, not just international investors.”

Ukrbud’s unfinished construction problems are “basically resolved,” said Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. “The issue of Ukrbud is practically resolved, and I thank the city authorities and our colleagues for that, we worked here, found investors… And the issue of Ukrbud is practically removed from the agenda, and I believe that the last houses will be adopted soon.”

From Editor: I returned yesterday from my first trip to Turkey — a week on Aegean coast, between Bodrum and Ephesus. I come home to Kyiv frankly impressed with Turkey’s level of development. Turkey’s road builders are world famous, but it is a real pleasure to drive the four lane divided highways – and smooth side roads. I may have been on Turkey’s Gold Coast, but the country looks solidly middle class. Over the last decade, Turkey’s GNP per capita rose by 50%, to $15,000 today. By contrast, Ukraine’s official GNP per capita flat lined over the last decade, hovering around $3,300. Even if 40% of Ukraine’s economy is in cash, that would still make Turkey three times richer than Ukraine. Both countries had about the same population in 1990. Today, Turkey, with 84 million is at least twice as large. For linguistic, cultural, historic and religious reasons, Ukrainians naturally focus on Poland and the rest of Europe. But it would be well worthwhile for Ukrainians to study what their southern neighbor has achieved —  going from poverty to middle class in one generation. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, August 26 – Rada Ratifies Nearly $2 billion in EU Aid

Ukreximbank Buys Bonds to Build Roads.Capital Investments Down 35%...State Aid for Cheap Mortgages and Small Business Loan….Tymoshenko on Ventilator for COVID..
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

The Rada ratifies a memorandum of understanding between Ukraine and the EU for €1.2 billion of pandemic-related financial assistance, according to the results of yesterday’s extraordinary session. The agreement is to be the largest tranche of EU funds directly disbursed to Ukraine, according to Prime Minister Shmygal.

The money is conditioned on the government’s pledge to ensure competitive selections for key positions, including the heads of Ukraine’s tax and customs agencies. Other conditions include dissolving the existing State Fiscal Service and creating a new agency to investigate economic and financial crimes.

The exact terms of the pandemic-relief loan have not yet been revealed, but previous EU liquidity programs were offered at 2% annual interest or lower to European Neighborhood Policy countries.

Back in May, the European Parliament and Council decided to extend macro-financial credit assistance to European Neighborhood Policy countries. The ENP countries are Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.

The Rada signs off on a European Investment Bank program worth €450 million to help Ukraine’s big road building program, according to the government.  The Bank says: “The financing will increase safety and help modernize parts of the network included in the extended Trans-European Network for Transport (TEN-T), which links the country internationally and to the EU in particular.”

The €450 million in EIB financing covers:

Construction of a new northern motorway bypass in Lviv region. The bypass is expected to serve 20,000 vehicles a day and will connect Kyiv’s Chop international highway and the Lviv – Lutsk national road. It will connect Lviv to Rava Ruska, Lviv to Krakovets and Lviv to Shegyni international highway on the route from Ukraine to Poland.

Upgrade of a 314 km section of the M05 highway on the Kyiv-Odessa route. This is the main connection between Kyiv and the Black Sea ports and serves 10,000 to 25,000 vehicles daily.

Ukreximbank signed an agreement with the State Roads Agency to purchase local currency bonds worth UAH 2.87 billion at 9.99%, the press service of the bank reports on Facebook. The state-owned bank raised funds for the purchase in the form of a refinancing loan from the National Bank of Ukraine, which was with a 3-year tenor and 6% interest rate. “Using a new instrument for the market, introduced by the NBU to stimulate investment and long-term lending, on August 19, the bank took part in the auction of an interest rate swap. After that it signed agreement with Ukravtodor,” said the bank’s board chairman Yevhen Metzger.

Ukreximbank combined three instruments at once – a refinancing loan, an interest rate swap and purchase of securities. Metzger said: “This is the first market transaction of this magnitude.”

Capital investments are down by 345% ($2.56 billion) in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period last year, reports Liga Busines,s citing the State Statistics Service. Investment in agriculture decreased by 45.5%, in heavy industries by 32%, in construction by 23%, in  trade by 32.5%, in transport by 54.4%. Investments in courier services were up 39% and telecoms by 10%.

The Rada approves state guarantees on $183 million of loans made to small and medium-sized enterprises, according to the government. Should borrowers default, the government will be obligated to repay up to 80% of the principal on loans made to entrepreneurs by state-owned banks.

The Rada authorizes the Ministry of Finance to issue more domestic local currency bonds (OVDPs) for the additional capitalization of the State Mortgage Agency to expand mortgage lending, reports

The central bank plans to regulate the debt collection market, the bank reports on Facebook. The National Bank of Ukraine  says it received hundreds of complaints about shady debt collectors using unethical methods, including force. First Deputy Governor Kateryna Rozhkova says the central bank will create a public register of authorized collection companies.

Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of Ukraine’s Fatherland party, is in serious condition after being hospitalized for Covid-19, r her press secretary Marina Soroka writes on Facebook. “Unfortunately, there is no good news now. Yulia’s condition remains difficult…Since last night, she has been receiving an intensive therapy course, according to the COVID treatment protocol.” She said Tymoshenko’s temperature hit to 39 degrees (102F). Segodnya Ukraine reports Tymoshenko is connected to a ventilator.

The Cabinet of Ministers calls for some quarantine measures to be extended until November 1, according to the office of the president. Over 108,000 people in Ukraine are known to be infected with Covid-19. The most affected regions today are Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv and Ternopil.

“But quarantine must remain adaptive and un-burdensome for entrepreneurs,” Zelenskiy stressed. “Small and medium-sized businesses should be able to properly maneuver in the new conditions.”

The government is in the process of developing regulations to ban citizens from “red zone” countries from entering Ukraine for 30 days, said the president. Globally, nearly 25 million people are confirmed to be infected with Covid-19, with the real number likely to be higher due to undertesting.

Zelenskiy suggests Ukraine should open up for Belarusians, given the increasing instability and continuing protests against President Lukashenko. “How can we ban Belarusians from entering, especially given the extremely tense domestic political situation in them? I think that it is necessary to reasonably prescribe easier conditions for Belarusians to enter us. This is a very delicate topic – everything must be taken into account.”

UIA will operate two Kyiv-New York-Kyiv flights – one next Monday and the other on Sept. 9. The jets leave Kyiv Boryspil in the morning, turnaround at New York’s JFK, and then take off again for Ukraine at 5:45 pm. The one-way fare is $482. Americans and residents of the United States have to undergo Covid tests on arrival in Boryspil and start 2-week self-isolation, until tests come back negative. Tickets can only be bought through the UIA website:

From the Editor: Alert reader Petro Rondiak, Board Manager of Winner Group, the new car importer, points out that that the latest numbers on car imports show that new car imports were up 15.9% yoy in July — and down only 2.2% for the first seven months of this year, compared to last year. Ukravtoprom, the automobile trade association, reports that used car imports were down 41% yoy for the first half of this year. For the first half of 2020, Ukrainians imported 37,600 new cars and 155,900 used cars.

In response to a note by alert reader Vitaliy Sych, editor of NV business news site: the government plans to use almost 500,000 cubic meters of metallurgical slag for road building this year. Arcelor Mittal has transferred 50 million tons of slag to Ukravtodor. To convert tons to cubic meters, simply use your handy online slag-o-meter. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke