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Wednesday, February 17

Berlin-Biden Talks on Nord Stream 2…Cold Snap Exposes Ramshackle Power System…Aslund: Don’t Hold Your Breath for IMF Deal…China’s DiDi Taxis Coming…Kyiv Sikorsky Airport to Expand: Bigger Planes = Fewer Planes
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

German and Biden Administration officials are discussing a package of measures that would allow the Russia-German gas line to open, but protect Ukraine’s security concerns, according to a Financial Times story headlined: “Germany aims for new deal with Washington on Nord Stream 2.” One proposal would empower Germany – or a German-American commission — to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia stopped sending minimum gas flows across Ukraine, increasing risk of an all-out Russian military attack.

“As Berlin seeks solutions, early signs from Washington indicate that the Biden administration is seeking to defuse the Nord Stream 2 debate,” the FT writes. “Two knowledgeable sources said [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken has demonstrated a willingness to minimize sanctions.” Bloomberg later posted a matching story yesterday, headlined: “Germany Seeks Deal With Biden on Controversial Pipeline.” Bloomberg quotes Mark Helfrich, a Bundestag member from the ruling Christian Democratic Union, saying: “German, EU and U.S. officials are in talks about a package of measures which seeks to enhance Ukrainian stability and European energy sovereignty.”

A cold weather spike in electricity consumption, a lack of coal, and power plant breakdowns are forcing Eastern Ukraine to import electricity from Belarus and Russia and Western Ukraine to import electricity from Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, reports Ukrenergo, the national power distribution company. As of Monday, 19 thermal power plants were offline, pulling 6,270 MW out of the system, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, Ukrenergo’s chairman told a forum in Kyiv yesterday.

Electricity consumption last week was 6.5% more than forecast. But coal reserves fell to one third of required minimums. Thanks to imports, Kudrytskyi does not predict immediate power shortages.

DTEK Group, Ukraine’s largest private power producer, called on the government yesterday “to abolish price caps, which are an obstacle to the liberalization of the electricity market.” The company cited the example of the EU, where the cost of electricity production during peak loads can increase significantly. DTEK said: “We call on the government to intervene in the situation and immediately hold an anti-crisis headquarters with the participation of the Prime Minister.”

Ukraine’s Energoatom will soon stop sending spent nuclear fuel to Russia for processing and storage, Petro Kotin, the company head, said yesterday. In July, the Centralized Spent Fuel Storage Facility will open, he said. At the same, time, Energoatom is completing a 43 km rail connector to the facility, built by Holtec, a US company, near Chornobyl. Nuclear supplies about half of Ukraine’s electricity.

With demand strong for Ukrainian government bonds, the Finance Ministry depressed yields on all five hryvnia bonds sold at yesterday’s auction, the Ministry reported. With yields dropping from six to 44 basis points, the final range was 9.15% for 3-month bonds to 12.05% for 3-year bonds. The government sold hryvnia bonds for the equivalent of $213 million. Also posting results on Facebook, the Ministry says it sold $42 million worth of 2-year dollar bonds at 3.9% and €70.5 million worth of 1-year euro bonds at 2.5%.

Looking beyond the bland public statements surrounding Ukraine’s recent suspension of talks with the IMF, Anders Aslund, a veteran IMF observer, writes in an Atlantic Council blog: “No agreement was concluded between the IMF and the Ukrainian government recently because they fundamentally disagree about pretty much everything.” Offering the only way forward, Aslund writes that President Zelenskiy “urgently needs to refocus on the anti-corruption messages that enabled him to win landslide election victories in the presidential and parliamentary votes of 2019.” Without real actions, he writes, the IMF “has no compulsion to offer credits to the dishonest.”

DiDi, China’s giant online taxi service, plans to launch this year in Ukraine, reports AIN.ua news site. With 550 million users, tens of millions of users and billions of dollars in revenues, DiDi entered Russia last year, a first step in a plan to expand across Eastern Europe. Last week, DiDi posted on the GRC job search website that is looking for a manager to launch in Ukraine.

DiDi will compete with Bolt, Uber and Uklon for Ukraine’s taxi market, estimated by Uklon at $800 million a year. Uber, the first mover in Ukraine, now operates in seven Ukrainian cities and claims that 4.3 million Ukrainians have downloaded its mobile app. Uklon operates in 19 cities and claims nearly 3 million users. Bolt operates in 10 cities and claims 3 million users.

Taxi services got a boost yesterday when the Rada overwhelmingly approved a bill raising the penalty for drunk driving to $608. For repeat offenders, the fine is doubled to $1,216, licenses are suspended for three years and vehicles can be seized. The Rada also tripled the fine – to $60 – for drivers caught breaking the national speed limit of 50km per hour in populated areas.

McDonald’s Ukraine plans to expand a pilot program of restaurant waste recycling to all 96 restaurants in the country by the end of this year, the company announced yesterday. As part of a worldwide McDonald’s drive to switch from plastics to paper by 2025, the restaurants in Ukraine switched last year to paper cups for drinks and paper boxes for salads.

Kyiv’s 11th Regus office work space opens in Podil next month, reports the parent company, Luxembourg-based IWG Plc. Despite last year’s economic recession, total occupancy of the 10 existing Regus work spaces in Kyiv is 78%, Yulia Lytvynenko, Ukraine director of IWG, tells Interfax-Ukraine. Predicting that several large leases will be signed in coming weeks, she predicts that the overall occupancy will rise “to 83% by March.” The new Regus will occupy three floors of the new Volodymyrsky business center on Poshtova Square, near Poshtova Metro station and the Kyiv Funicular. Lytvynenko says: “The highlight, surely, will be beautiful views of the Dnipro River on the one hand and the [Volodymyrska Hill] park on the other.”

Kyiv’s Sikorsky Airport is to add 500 meters to its runway, allowing Wizz Air, its primary user, to use larger jets. By moving to Airbus 321 jets, Wizz Air says it can reduce frequencies and noise in the capital’s Zhuliany neighborhood. Wizz Air has ordered 190 Airbus 321s, which carry 30% more passengers than the Airbus 320s, currently the workhorse of Wizz Air.

Mayor Klitschko signed an order last week for design work to start on a 5-year upgrade of the airport. By expanding the runway to 2,810 meters, upgrading lights and adding an instrument landing system, the airport is to be certified to land jets in bad weather, avoiding diversions to Boryspil. Ukraine’s second busiest airport, after Boryspil, Sikorsky handled 2.6 million passengers in 2019. The City Council is mulling a second expansion: increasing the airport’s territory by 5%, to 278 hectares.

Editor’s Note: While the Zelenskiy government courts United Arab Emirates investors and investment, it  should take care of the foreign investors and managerial talent already here. In 2017-2018, Simon Cherniavsky, a British-American farm manager, turned around Mriya, an internationally notorious case of fraud. Due to his achievements, Cherniavsky was asked to turn around Ukraine’s State Food and Grain Corporation, a state company notorious for corruption. For his pains, he writes in the Kyiv Post, he now faces “a baseless criminal case…[whose] main purpose is to discredit the initiatives taken by a few reform-oriented managers and politicians who want to see Ukraine’s state-owned enterprises succeed.” His essay is worth reading – and acting upon – by people who want Ukraine to move forward. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Friday, January 15

Government Jawbones IMF on Gas Price Controls…Gazprom Keeps its Word and Pays Ukraine $2 billion…US Spooks EU Companies out of Nord Stream 2…Kolomoisky Pulls Plug on Canadian Solar Plant…Sun Sets on Coal
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 government’s plan to cut gas prices by one third is sparking a flurry of meetings between the IMF representative and government ministers. “We had a constructive meeting with the IMF on gas prices,” Prime Minister Shmygal wrote yesterday evening on Telegram. “Our Government’s position: the gas market in Ukraine must work. Unfortunately, some market players continue to abuse the position that Ukrainians suffer from.”

Aware of the IMF’s core attachment to market prices for gas, acting Energy Minister Yuriy Vitrenko and Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko also explained the government’s position to IMF representatives. “They are concerned that we are revising some of our earlier commitments,” Marchenko told NV Radio yesterday, referring to the IMF. There are no grounds, he added, “to say that we have already done something very bad.”

From London, Timothy Ash stressed the importance of market prices for a major source of Ukraine’s heat and electricity: “The move to market-based gas pricing in Ukraine has produced huge wins in recent years – it’s helped slash gas consumption from plus 70 bcm to less than 30 bcm, cutting the energy import bill from $12bn per annum, to perhaps $2-3bn, and also cut the quasi-fiscal deficit by 4-5% of GDP, given the huge subsidies previously given to Naftogaz. That has also cut a huge amount of graft from the system. Estimates had suggested that Ukrainian elites were perhaps creaming off $3bn annually from the gas business.”

Spawning street protests in at least eight regional capitals, the spike in Ukraine’s gas prices stems from: cold weather, high prices in Europe, and a poorly implemented market opening that allows price gouging by suppliers. Ash again: “The Zelenskiy team will argue that this is not aimed as a major reversal in market-based energy pricing, but is a reaction to oligopoly pricing by a few bad actors in the industry. Essentially Naftogaz seems to be selling gas to consumers at UAH7 per kWh, whereas other operators are selling at prices nearer to UAH11-12 per kWh. Naftogaz can do this as it bought gas into storage cheaply and is trying to take market share.”

At stake is $2.9 billion of low interest loans remaining to be disbursed from the IMF’s $5 billion Stand-By Arrangement of last summer. The agreement is widely seen as a seal of approval for Ukraine’s economic policies, an approval that lowers Eurobond rates for Ukrainian borrowers and, ideally, gives a green light to foreign brick and mortar investors. While discussions behind closed doors in Kyiv have been heated, in Washington, IMF Spokesman Jerry Rice merely told reporters yesterday: “The first review of the Stand-By agreement continues.”

One year after the last-minute renegotiation of Ukraine’s gas transit deal with Gazprom, Naftogaz reports that the Russian state company paid its 2020 bill in full — $2.1 billion. Gazprom paid for shipping the total booked amount – 65 billion cubic meters. By year’s end, Gazprom had shipped only 86% of that amount — 55.8 bcm.  This year through 2024, Gazprom is contracted to ship 40 bcm a year through Ukraine’s pipelines.

Today, the US State Department is expected to issue a report listing which European companies working on Nord Stream 2 will be subject to US sanctions, Reuters reports from Washington. In advance, Rambøll, Danish, a consulting engineering company, dropped out of the $11 billion Russia-Germany gas line project this week. The company had done environmental impact studies, reports Politiken, the Copenhagen newspaper. A few days earlier, Norway’s Det Norske Veritas GL, which was to certify the1,230 km pipeline upon completion, also dropped out of Nord Stream 2.

TIU Canada of Calgary is suing Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant for disconnecting the Canadians’ 10.5 MW solar plant last March, ostensibly because the Ferroalloy Plant did not want to pay green power rates. The trial started Wednesday in Kyiv Commercial Court with TIU charging that the shutdown has cost them €1.5 million over the last 10 months. The solar plant connects to a substation on the grounds of the Ferroalloy Plant, which is owned by Igor Kolomoisky, Gennadiy Bogolyubov, and Viktor Pinchuk. TIU maintains that under Ukrainian law, only electricity producers can disconnect a plant from the national power grid.

Ukraine’s coal production fell by 7% last year, hitting 29 million tons, near the level of 1916, reports the Energy Ministry. Employment in coal mines is about 30,000 today – 6% the level of the end of the Soviet period. In the last 15 years, government subsidies to coal mines have been cut from $8 billion a year to less than $500 million a year today.

Western Ukraine Coal Construction, Ukraine’s last state company devoted to building coal mines, goes up for auction in 10 days, reports the State Property Fund. The company has 15,700 square meters at its headquarters in Chervonograd, Lviv region and nine hectares at a miners’ resort in Volyn’s lake region. Bids start at $400,000.

The State Property Fund plans to sell 500 state properties this year to private owners, Dmytro Sennychenko, the head of the Fund, wrote on Facebook. “Privatization grows jobs, improves the socio-economic state of the regions, and the state ceases to spend taxpayers’ funds on damages,” he wrote. Obstacles include: the need to follow 70 procedures for each property sale, “sabotage by enterprise management or its ′shadow ′ executives,” and the lack of final Rada approval to lift last year’s suspension of big sales.

Regional airports are primed for a post pandemic takeoff. UkSATSE traffic numbers for 2020 confirmed the dominance of Kyiv’s two big airports – Boryspil (47,524 flights) and Sikorsky (12,805). The air traffic control agency’s graphic on Facebook shows a second layer that is catching up with Sikorsky: Lviv (9,850), Odesa (9,282), and Kharkiv (7,576). A third layer shows potential: Dnipro (4,174), Poltava (4,119) and Zaporizhia (4,087). This winter, Dnipro starts a 3-year, $100 million rebuild of its runway and terminal. Last spring, Zaporizhia inaugurated its new terminal. And Poltava’s air traffic is entirely charter aircraft. Scheduled flights are expected to follow — once EU travel restrictions lift.

The EBRD is working with the Infrastructure Ministry to create dedicated funds to develop Ukraine’s airports and railway infrastructure, Minister Vladyslav Krykliy said yesterday on the ministry website. In an attempt to emulate the Road Fund, “the EBRD has already allocated funding and selected consultants to analyze international experience, develop a concept and write relevant legislation,” Krikliy said. The EBRD also gave the Minister a report yesterday assessing the ministry’s capacity to execute public partnerships with private companies.

Editor’s Note For two years, Michael Yurkovich was the energizer bunny from Calgary. The TIU Canada CEO ceaselessly proselytised for foreign investment in Ukraine – from that freezing day in January 2018 when we met at the inauguration of his solar plant in Nikopol, to warmer days in Davos when he preached before audiences at Ukraine House. Now, this Ukrainian-Canadian wears his bitterness on his sleeve. Messrs. Koloimoisky et al may think they are clever pulling the plug on his solar plant. But Yurkovich is a fighter and knows how to use an international megaphone. And, as Ukraine’s debt to solar and wind producers approaches $1 billion, Yurkovich is not alone. Yesterday, I wrote an item about the Cabinet of Ministers fast tracking immigration permits for investors who put $100,000 into a Ukrainian company. At 7:12 am, I got this zinger email from an American wind power investor: “Foreigners who invest over $100k in Ukraine are more likely to want an emigration permit when they’re done!” With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Monday, January 11

Gazprom Works to Finish Nord Stream by Summer…Ukraine Zero Foreign Investment  in 2020…DTEK Opens London ‘Investment Hub’…Turkey-Ukraine: 30 Military Production Projects… Ryanair Cuts 70% of Flights out of Kyiv Until April
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

Gazprom re-starts construction of Nord Stream 2 on Friday, using a flotilla of three Russian boats capable of finishing the Russia to Germany gas line by May, The Financial Times reports from Moscow and Berlin. Denmark’s energy agency states it received the necessary documents for pipe laying to resume Jan. 15. A German Foreign Ministry official tells the FT: “According to our information, the construction permits necessary for laying the pipeline have been issued.” Worked stopped one year ago, in face of new US sanctions. A second layer of sanctions were approved by the US Congress 10 days ago.

“The US sanctions will delay the launch of the project, but will not stop its completion,” predicts Naz Masraff, Europe director at Eurasia Group. “Ultimately, Moscow, with the help of Berlin, will find ways to bypass the sanctions.” Looking ahead to the inauguration of Joe Biden next week at US president, she told the FT: “[US] sanctions will likely be used as leverage to co-operate with the German government on restrictions to make the pipeline operational while also paying attention to Washington’s concerns over Ukraine.”

With Russian gas transit across Ukraine only guaranteed through 2024, Ukraine’s pipeline operator is negotiating alternatives: storage of gas from new LNG terminals in the Baltic and Adriatic, and transmission of ‘non-carbonized’ gases, such hydrogen and bio-methane. Olga Bielkova, international affairs director for Ukraine’s gas transportation system, writes in an Atlantic Council Ukraine Alert blog that Ukraine and Romania are increasing their cross-border pipelines from one to four, Ukraine is negotiating with Hungary access to gas from Croatia’s new LNG terminal, and is offering Polish gas traders storage capacity in western Ukraine, near the border.

Pro-Russian politicians promoting Russia’s coronavirus vaccine are making advances as the West delays sending its own vaccines to Ukraine, The New York Times reports in a story headlined: “In Vaccine Geopolitics, a Great Game Played With Ukrainians’ Health.” The article reports that the first Covax-supplied vaccines are to arrive in March, and commercial purchases of Western vaccines are only to start at the end of this year. In a New Year message, President Zelenskiy complained that “the richest countries” will get the vaccine first.

Alfa-Bank Ukraine forecasts the 2020 year-end foreign direct investment figure will be $0.00 billion. By contrast, net FDI inflow was $5.2 billion in 2019 and $4.5 billion in 2018.

Lack of rule of law, unpaid debts to solar and wind investors, and last year’s purge of internationally-known reformers from government make for bleak prospects for inbound investment this year, Anders Aslund predicts in an Atlantic Council Ukraine blog: “What is Ukraine’s Economic Outlook for 2021?” “Looking ahead, Ukraine’s worst economic problem remains the absence of property rights, which continues to hinder investment of any kind,” the Swedish-American economist writes from Washington. “Without judicial reform or an increase in investment, there is little reason to expect any economic growth beyond the gains arising from the anticipated post-coronavirus rebound.”

By the end of next year, Ukrhydroenergo plans to put into operation at its hydro plants energy storage systems with capacity of 212 MW and solar power plants with a capacity of 65 MW, says Ihor Syrota, CEO of the state hydroelectric power generating company. Without citing numbers, he said the World Bank and the European Investment Bank are ready to lend to the project, reports Expro Consulting.

DTEK is opening “an investment hub” in London to attract investments for renewable energy projects in the Ukraine and in the EU, the company reports. “We created a hub to attract investment in new energy projects in Ukraine,” says company CEO Maxim Timchenko. “This primarily concerns renewable energy sources, energy storage systems and hydrogen energy projects.”

Turkey and Ukraine are working on “more than 30 joint projects” for production of military equipment, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey Andrii Sybiha says in a lengthy written said interview with Defensehere.com, a Turkish defense industry news site. Rather than trading military goods across the Black Sea, the countries are focusing on “joint research, joint-ventures and establishing joint production,” he says. This decades, he predicts, will see Ukrainian Antonov planes built in Turkey and Turkish drones produced in Ukraine. Turning to space, he said both countries are working for joint development of “satellite technologies, space launch systems and infrastructure.”

A Turkey-Ukraine-Poland container route is in the pipeline for 2021 as Ukrferry and Ferrplus have signed an agreement with Ukrzaliznytsia’s Lisky terminal in Kyiv. In a multimodal route, containers will cross the Black Sea by ferry, largely to Odesa, then continue by rail to Kyiv and then to Gdansk, Poland’s port on the Baltic, reports Railfreight.com. Separately, Edvīns Bērziņš, the new Latvian director of UZ’s freight terminal at Lisky, is negotiating with PKP Cargo Connect to transport goods between Ukraine and Poland; with BTLC Germany to expand container trains between Europe and China; and with DHL will allow to organize container transportation around Ukraine.

On the first anniversary of the shootdown of the UIA passenger jet over Tehran, Ukraine joined Afghanistan, Canada, Sweden the UK in stating: “Our countries will hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the [176] victims and affected countries.” UIA pilots and air crews and families of the deceased laid flowers Friday a memorial stone in Willow Grove Square on the left bank of the Dnipro.

Ryanair is suspending about 70% of its flights out of Kyiv Borsypil until April, according to an analysis of the discount airline’s booking system by avianews.com. Until spring, only three out of the 30 routes from Kyiv will operate unchanged. Flights from Kharkiv and Kherson are suspended and traffic from Lviv is limited to a lone flight to London. The EU and UK have largely banned non-essential visits by Ukrainians. Flights are largely limited to people with work permits, study visas, in transit, or nationals of the destination country. Most countries require a certificate attesting to the negative result of a coronavirus test conducted within the previous 48 hours.

Editor’s Note: Zero foreign investment last year. That should be an alarm bell for a major reset by the Zelenskiy Administration. Otherwise, it will simply tread water through 2024. An outgoing Italian diplomat, before driving home to Rome last week, left me with these sobering numbers for Italian investment in 2018: Africa: + €18 billion; Ukraine: negative €200 million. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Monday, January 4

Strong Iron and Grain Prices Help Cut Trade Deficit…Nord Stream 2: Gas Standoff in the Baltic…Gas Alternatives Start in the Adriatic…Dragon Buys a Bank…Central Bank Buys Dollars
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

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.”

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%.

Editor’s Note: As the Ukraine Business News expands its international investor readership, we expand our language editions. Today, we add Polish and Spanish. On the UBN website, check the dropdown menu with the little language flags. Now, you will find seven: English, Ukrainian, Russian, French, German, Polish and Spanish. For Polish, I thank Gennadii Nevmerzhytskyi, who runs TGL LLC in Warsaw. For Spanish, I thank Iuliia Nevynna, CEO of Kyiv’s Spanglish Academy. And for proofreading English, I thank Anna Maria Fomin, friend who lives in Melbourne, Australia. While we sleep, Anna catches those annoying typos. Please tell your international business colleagues about the UBN en español and po polsku! With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, December 16

Finance Ministry Auctions a Record $1.85 billion in Government Bonds…Eyeing IMF, Rada Passes Conservative 2021 and Restores Anti-Corruption Agency Powers…Drought Pushes Down National Grain Harvest by 13%...Small Business Block Central Kyiv, Protesting Corona Lockdown
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

Fueled by foreign investors looking for high yields, the Finance Ministry sold a record $1.85 billion worth of government bonds at auction yesterday. Yields on hryvnia bonds ranged from 10% for 3-month bonds to 12.18% for 5-year bonds, the Ministry reported on Facebook. In addition to offering hryvnia bonds with seven different tenures, the Ministry offered 1-year bonds in dollars and euros. Investors bought $266 million worth of dollar bonds with 3.85% yields and €56.7 million worth of euro bonds with 2.5% yields.

The total amount raised was more than three times the amount raised at last week’s auction. With two more weekly auctions scheduled this month, the Ministry is expected to cover the budget shortfall before the end of the year.

The Rada passed Ukraine’s 2021 budget yesterday. A fiscally conservative document with a deficit of 5.5% of gross domestic product, slightly less than this year. Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said the budget is a key step for Ukraine to get back on track with the IMF program agreed last June. He told reporters after the vote by parliament: “The budget is a marker showing that we can fulfill our obligations.”

The budget numbers:

  • 6% GDP growth in 2021 to $158 billion, a reversal of this year’s forecast contraction of 4.8%
  • 2021 tax revenues: $38.3 billion; 2021 expenditures: $47.25 billion.
  • 3% inflation, compared to 4.9% this year
  • Average monthly salary is to increase by 12% in 2021, from the current level of $427
  • Forecast average exchange rate for 2021: 29.1 hryvnia / dollar – from 27.8 today
  • Exports will grow by 3%, recovering halfway from this year’s 8% decline.
  • Imports will rebound by 10.6%, after this year’s forecast 16% decrease.
  • Public debt to GDP ratio: 64.6%.
  • Privatization should bring in $430 million
  • Budget spending in infrastructure: roads – $3.2 billion; Ukrzaliznytsia railroad: $160 million; airports — $85 million

In another move to get back on track with the IMF, the Rada overwhelmingly approved yesterday two bills to restore powers to a key agency of Ukraine’s new Western-designed anti-corruption machinery. Two months, ago the Constitutional Court stuck powers of the National Anti-Corruption Agency, a unit that was investigating at least three judges of the Constitutional Court. Oleksandr Novikov, head of the agency, said after the Rada votes: “The National Anti-Corruption Agency resumes all it operations in all major directions now.”

In Washington, Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, warned that the incoming Biden administration will not give a free pass to the Zelenskiy administration due to Ukraine’s strategic value in blocking Russia. “Ukraine has to take responsibility for its own development – only Ukrainians can solve their own internal issues,” he said when asked at the Ukrainian Investment Roadshow if President-elect Biden will use ‘tough love’ to get Ukraine on the reform track. “Why should the IMF or EU would step in to help Ukraine, when Ukraine doesn’t deliver on its own commitments on reform, and the state bureaucracy is so dense that even capital ready to invest gets tangled up?”

Drought pushed down this year’s national grain harvest by 13% yoy, to 65.4 million tons, Igor Petrashko, minister of Economic Development and Trade, announced yesterday. The fall ended two years of record harvests – first 70 million tons in 2018, then 75 million tons in 2019. This year, Ukraine’s top volume crop, corn fell 17% yoy, to 29.8 million tons. Wheat, the second largest crop, fell by 10%, to 25.1 million tons.

Despite the drops, Minister Petrashko said the 2020 harvest is “three times more than the needs of the domestic market, and also allows us to maintain a leading position in the export of agricultural products.” With overnight frosts freezing the ground in some parts of Ukraine, winter sowing has been completed on 8 million hectares.

Thousands of small business owners and workers yesterday protested the impending coronavirus lockdown and end of tax privileges, blocking central Kyiv’s Maidan Square and Kreschatyk Street into the night. Reuters reported that one police officer was knocked unconscious and 40 others received chemical eye burns from gas. “Stop the Lockdown” was the slogan that brought small business people from across the nation to protest the January 8-24 lockdown. The protest is coordinated by ‘Save FOP’ a national movement of autonomous workers who want to forestall a Finance Ministry plan to require digital cash registers and tax receipts.

One quarter of Kyiv restaurants have closed permanently due to coronavirus restrictions this year, estimates a new study, “Consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic and quarantine measures for the leading sectors of the Ukrainian economy.”  “In cities where there is less population, the situation is many times worse,” Marlin Tynny, owner of the Praha and Montecchi Capuleti restaurants, tells researchers. “Millions of people were left without a livelihood.” The 190-page study was prepared by the Center for Applied Research in cooperation with Ekonomichna Pravda and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Kyiv City has the highest coronavirus infection rate of Ukraine, reports the Health Ministry. In the first half of December, Kyiv’s infection rate was 746 per 100,000 people. Close behind were: Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Sumy, Zaporizhia and Kyiv Region.

Almost one third of the Rada’s 424 members have had coronavirus since August, reports Dmytro Razumkov, chairman of Ukraine’s one chamber parliament. Currently, 21 MPs and 55 Rada employees are undergoing treatment, he said.

Editor’s Note: CFOs of Ukraine’s blue chip corporations forecast a U-shaped recovery for Ukraine next year. It will not be a Roaring 20s bounce, but a gradual recovery from a lost year. Every executive said foreign investors always ask if Ukraine will get back on track with the IMF. These are my takeaways from a panel I moderated yesterday afternoon with executives of Kernel, Metinvest, Naftogaz, Ukrzaliznytsia, and Vodaphone for Strategy Council’s annual Ukrainian Investment Roadshow. Straight talk from executives who have successfully navigated the rapids of 2020. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, December 15

Foreign Flags on the Dnipro…Ukrainians Buy Apartments in Poland…Low Oil Prices Save Ukraine $3 billion…King Coal Steps Down after a Century on Ukraine’s Throne
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

Foreign shipping companies will be allowed to carry cargo up and down the Dnipro, under legislation approved by the Rada recently with President Zelenskiy’s backing. The goal is to triple annual river cargo to 30 million tons by 2024. “We need to build 250-300 new vessels,” Artem Kovalev, the Rada member who authored the bill, told UNIAN. “It is unrealistic to do this in a short time…so we have agreed to allow vessels flying a foreign flag to operate in our inland waterways.” Rebuilding river locks is to be paid through a new Inland Waterways Fund. This will be funded in part by 3% of customs duties paid by foreign flag ships using Ukrainian ports and by 45% of rent payments paid by hydro dams.

Ukrainians spent about $150 million last year to buy 3,200 apartments in Poland, making Ukrainians the largest foreign investor group in Polish residential real estate. The calculations were made by Gethhome.pl, based on data from Poland’s Interior and Administration Ministry. Ukrainians buy apartments to live in. Germans, the second largest foreign investor nationality, buy apartments as investments, reports PAP, the Polish Press Agency.

Low oil prices have saved Ukraine $3 billion so far this year, reports the State Customs Service. Through November, Ukraine oil import bill is down 36%, while the import volume is down only 5.6%. The top three sources of petroleum products are: Russia — $1.1 billion, or 35.9%; Belarus –$1.09 billion or 35.4%; and Lithuania — $360 million, or 12%.

Ukraine’s power plants reduced their coal consumption by 32% through October and increased their gas use by 31%, reports Expro.com, citing Energy Ministry numbers. Coal consumption fell to 14.1 million tons, while gas consumption rose 3.9 billion cubic meters.

Ukraine is gradually phasing out the use of coal, President Zelenskiy told a UN-sponsored gathering on Saturday, the International Climate Ambition Summit. Promising a “fair transformation of the coal sector,” Zelenskiy said in a recorded statement to the online gathering of Heads of Government that Ukraine will cut greenhouse gas emissions until reaching an ultimate goal of carbon neutrality. He blamed climate change for this year’s droughts that damaged crops across Ukraine and for forest fires in the east and floods in the west.

With demand dropping for coal, Ukraine’s coal mining industry is a shadow of its peak when it employed 500,000 miners, making Ukraine Europe’s third largest coal producer, after Germany and Poland. Last year, Ukraine’s production was 31 million tons – 17% the level of 1989. This year, it could fall to 25 million tons – the level of 1914.

All unprofitable mines will be closed in this decade, Olha Buslavets, first deputy Energy Minister said last week at the First German-Ukrainian Energy Day. “Unprofitable mines will be closed within ten years,” she said. “The minimization of subsidies to the industry from the state budget will take place in the coming years.” Addressing the challenge of retraining and relocating thousands of miners, she said: “Care must be taken so that no one is left behind. This is the motto of a fair transformation of the coal industry, laid down in the European Green Deal. This should happen with us, too.”

The EU is ready to help Ukrainian miners move out of coal, Torsten Wöllert, a European Commission energy official from Brussels, said at the Germany-Ukraine Day. “We are ready from the EU to help in this start together with the EU member states – Germany, Poland.,” he promised. “We will accompany Ukraine in this.”

At the German-sponsored Energy Day, Prime Minister Shmygal thanked Germany for its aid, saying “the project for a fair transformation of coal regions under the new energy partnership will begin this month: work will begin at two selected mines in the East and West of Ukraine.” Reflecting the shift in Ukrainian government attitudes toward coal, he said Ukraine will join a loose international grouping, the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

With the EBRD planning to invest up to $100 billion to help EU coal mining towns shift to new vocations through 2027, the Bank held an online conference Friday to promote a similar shift in Ukraine – the Platform Initiative in Support of Coal Regions in Transition in Western Balkans and Ukraine. “The EBRD confirmed its commitment to providing finance for investments that will support the transition from coal,” a Bank executive said at the meeting, organized with the World Bank, the European Commission and the Polish government. The ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ is designed “to support workers and citizens of regions where high-carbon assets are located.”

Polish tourists traveling to Chervonohrad, a Lviv region border town, will one day visit ‘Nadia,’ a Soviet-era coal mine turned into “industrial museum,” under a plan by Ukraine’s Regional Development Ministry. The project is part of a plan by the Ministry to transform mining towns into industrial parks, research centers, logistics complexes and even tourist attractions. Located one hour north of Lviv, Chervonohrad, population 65,000, has a mining college and nine coal mines. But, with coal prices low and payment of wages erratic, almost one quarter of the population left the city over the last decade — many to jobs 10 km across the border in Poland. In September, 40 miners at Nadia stayed underground for several days to protest non-payment of wages.

The government promises to pay this week $50 million in back wages owed to coal miners across the country, ruling party Rada Member Vasyl Mokan promised yesterday. About one quarter of the debt is owed to miners in Lviv, largely in Chervonohrad, Mykhailo Volynets, chairman of Ukraine’s Independent Trade Union of Miners, wrote Friday on Facebook.

Editor’s Note: Ukraine is embarking on a historic shift away from coal. In 1913, the Donbas produced 87% of the coal of the Russian Empire. A decade later, Soviet posters showed the Donbas as the pulsing red heart of communist industrialization. In modern days, as the experiences of the UK and US show, the shift from coal breaks up communities and leaves behind ghost towns. But, looking at Ukraine’s production figures, much of that transition already has started. For the inevitable transition in the 2020s, German and Polish money, experience and advice are welcome. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, December 8

Ukraine’s Economic Recovery to Start in Spring…Infrastructure Investment Saves Construction…More Mortgages, Small Business Loans…Black Week Saved Black Friday…Real Wages Grow…Turkey-Ukraine Talk of Building Rockets
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 prolonged coronavirus pandemic will stretch Ukraine’s economic recession through the winter, Economy Minister Ihor Petrashko predicted yesterday. But after a 3% GDP yoy drop in the first quarter, growth will resume in April, he told the Ukrainian Investment Roadshow. Growth will continue strongly, allowing Ukraine to end 2021 with 4.6% GDP growth, he said. Such a U-shaped economic recovery would cancel out the 5% GDP drop forecast for 2020.

Big government spending on infrastructure is singlehandedly pulling the construction sector into positive territory this year, according to analysis by Alfa-Bank Ukraine. Through October, construction is up by 1.9% yoy. A 10.6% rise in infrastructure investment was enough to offset a 18.7% drop in housing construction. Alfa reports: “Spending on roads more than doubled compared to the previous year.”

Overall, the government’s Big Construction’s share of GDP grew from 2.8% in the first quarter, to 10% in the fourth quarter, Mikhail Kukhar, chief economist of Ukraine Economic Outlook, said last week at a road industry forum. He said: “The decline in our country’s GDP would have been 11% in the fourth quarter, if not for the Big Construction project.” The Q4 decline is expected to be about 3.7%.

By the end of this month, the goals of the Big Construction project should be 95% complete, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy presidential chief of staff, tells Interfax-Ukraine. The completion scorecard is: 200 schools and kindergartens: 93% complete; 4,000 km of state roads: 92% complete: and 100 sports facilities – 87% complete. For schools, the construction means new buildings for 8,338 students and renovated buildings for 55,000 students.

Europe’s biggest floating crane is being towed from Istanbul to Zaporizhia to complete the long-delayed bridge over the Dnipro, reports Ukravtodor. When erect, the crane rises 148 meters — nearly the height of Kyiv’s Parus office tower. The bridge complex is 9 km long. Onur, the Turkish company which is carrying out the $400 million contract to complete the bridge says part of the route will open to vehicles at the end of this month.

Since March $518 million in loans have been extended to small businesses, a factor in mitigating the impact of the coronavirus recession, the Finance Ministry reported yesterday.  Under the ‘5-7-9% Loans’ program, 6,300 loans have been extended to businesses with less than $3.5 million in annual revenue. Of the total, 68% of the loan money has gone to refinance existing debt, the Finance Ministry reported yesterday. There are 23 private and state banks participating in the program.

Home mortgage loans, long a rarity in Ukraine, are up 23% yoy, totalling almost $100 million through October. The average size is for $26,000, and 87% are for second homes, reports the National Bank of Ukraine. The secondary home market is more popular because rates are lower — 14.3% — than for first homes — 17.2%.

By replacing ‘Black Friday’ sales with ‘Black Week’ sales, merchants managed to save what could have been a bleak start to the holiday season, Ukrainian bankers tell Interfax-Ukraine. Charges with Akkord bank cards were up 38% this year, compared to a 47% increased last year. At Kreditvest Bank, Chairman Vasily Nevmerzhitsky said the week over week sales were up only 20-30%. He said: “If we compare sales on Black Friday in 2019 and in Black Week in 2020, the total drop in sales was about 40%.”

By contrast, the MOYO chain of electronics stores says it doubled its sales on Black Friday. Sales were boosted partly by a 16% increase in stores, to 36, and by keeping one store in Kyiv open around the clock. MOYO CEO Valentin Ivakin said: “The number orders and their amount twice exceeded the record of 2019.”

JYSK, which has a chain of 71 furniture stores in Ukraine, recorded a 10% increase in sales in November compared to last year. Evgeniy Ivanitsa, country director of the Danish-based firm, said this increase was reached by stretching the sales over eight days and attracting 1.5 million visits to their online store.

Real wages jumped 11% yoy in October, reports the State Statistics Service. Reflecting the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, the fastest growing wages were in healthcare — up 54%. The worst performing were in hotels and restaurants, where pay was stagnant.

The national monthly average wage is $430. The highest wages are in: Kyiv City — $618; Ukraine-controlled Donetsk — $479; and Kyiv Region — $456. Of the 24 regions, wages grew the fastest in: Chernivtsi and Kherson — 21%;  Rivne and Mykolaiv — 20%; Zakarpatti, Ivano-Frankivsk and Kirovohrad -019%; Ternopil —18%;  Zhytomyr -17%, and Luhansk – 16%.

Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko attributes “the fast growth of real wages to the minimum wage being hiked to UAH 5,000 a month starting Sept.1, relatively low consumer inflation, and the increased demand for labor amid economic stabilization.

Next year’s planned 30% hike in the minimum wage will be postponed five months, until Dec. 1, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko confirms. The increase, to $228 a month, is being delayed to keep down inflation and to reduce the government budget deficit. Many government payments are indexed to the minimum wage.

For the statistics-addicted, the State Statistics Service has launched a mobile application “Statistics in a smartphone.” Oleg Nemchinov, Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, says the new service offers graphs and numbers for: GDP, population, labor market, prices, industry, agriculture, construction, transport, and trade.

Ukraine is discussing with Turkey the joint creation of launch vehicles for commercial launches of satellites into space, Ukraine’s Strategic Industries Minister Oleg Urusky tells Radio Svoboda. Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Bureau works with Northrop Grumman to  produce expendable rockets for placing satellites in low-Earth orbits. Ukraine and Turkey would need to use a third country cosmodrome, Urusky said. Until 2015, Ukraine had a project with Brazil to launch Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 carrier rockets from Brazil’s Alcântara Launch Center, near the Equator.

Editor’s Note:  A consensus that Ukraine is heading toward a U-shaped recovery next year emerged from the ‘Ukraine Macroeconomic” panel that I moderated yesterday for the Ukrainian Investment Roadshow. Assuming that the coronavirus will come under control during the first half of 2021, renewed growth was the view shared by: Economy Minister Petrashko, Dmytro Sologub, deputy governor of the central bank, Sergiy Nikolaychuk, head of macroeconomics for ICU, and Anders Aslund, economists for the Atlantic Council. Tune in tomorrow for Banking and Wednesday for UK Trade & Investment. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Monday, December 7

Rada Passes Compromise Anti-Corruption Bill…Ukraine Bonds Perform Well on World Markets…Russia Restarts Nord Stream 2…China Expands Trade and Tech…Ukraine Modernizes Planes, Trains and Trucks
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 bid to unlock billions of dollars in low interest IMF loans, the Rada restored accountability for false asset declarations, albeit a watered down version. Approved Friday, the new bill raised the limit for ‘forgetting’ an asset 9-fold, essentially from a car to a house. Officials who are not caught in two years, get off free. Fines range from $1,500 to $3,000. The possibility of imprisonment is lifted.

Anti-corruption groups have protested. President Zelenskiy wrote on Facebook: “It is a pity that the responsibility is still not as tough as we would like.” But he made clear he would sign the compromise bill. There was no comment from the IMF.

Ukrainian bonds are among the best performing in emerging markets in the post-US-election rallyreports Tellimer Research. “Sovereign bonds lead the way, tightening 100-150bps in November and outperforming EM indices, despite uncertainty over IMF funding and the devastating effect of coronavirus on the Ukrainian economy,” writes analyst Kiti Pantskhava. Among the corporates, Kernel and Metinvest are the best performers.

Russia restarted construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on Saturday, Ukraine’s Hromadske television channel reports, citing a document from the Germany’s Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency. Work on the Russia-Germany trans-Baltic line stopped almost one year ago due to US sanctions. To get around sanctions, the pipelines company is using Russian ships in an effort to finish the 1,222 km pipeline, which is 90% complete.

Germany’s government sees US sanctions against Nord Stream 2 as illegal and does not predict any change under a Biden administration, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells Der Spiegel. “”We have no illusions. There are almost no differences between Republicans and Democrats on this issue,” he said. He attributed US opposition to the pipeline to US interest in selling liquefied natural gas to the EU. A direct Russia-Germany pipeline would render the existing pipeline across Ukraine redundant, depriving Ukraine of $2-3 billion in annual transit fees.

With Britain apparently heading toward a ‘hard Brexit’ three weeks from now, Ukraine is asking the UK to negotiate a bilateral trade deal to lower tariffs.  On Friday, Prime Minister Shmygal asked UK Ambassador Melinda Simmons to start trade talks this month, even before the new bilateral trade treaty is ratified by the Rada. Signed in October by President Zelenskiy, the new trade treaty essentially continues on a bilateral level the trade rules that already exist for the UK as part of the EU.

Representatives of over 100 Ukrainian companies took part remotely in a China-Ukraine investment fair, hosted in Beijing, reports china.org.cnnews site With almost 300 Chinese and Ukrainian business and government officials participating, the annual conference took on new importance this year with the emergence of China as Ukraine’s top trading partner. At the conference, the China-Ukraine Bilateral Entrepreneurs Council announced the establishment of a liaison office in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang province. Harbin mayor Sun Zhe said his city has worked well with Ukraine in such fields as aerospace, new materials and modern agriculture.

Huawei Ukraine is helping the Digital Transformation Ministry open a center “for students and future entrepreneurs” at Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko National University. “This initiative opens up new opportunities for the development of talent in the digital world,” said Ding Ning, Huawei’s deputy director of supply and service. Last July, Ding signed an agreement with Kyiv Polytechnic Institute to open an “Academy of Information and Web Technologies.” KPI wrote on its Facebook page: “The University will become a platform for promoting Huawei technologies and ideas on the Ukrainian market. Huawei company cooperates with more than 900 universities overseas on opening ICT academies authorised by Huawei.”

For the first time since Independence, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry is about to order new planes from Antonov, Strategic Industries Minister Oleh Urusky tells Radio Svoboda. “A contract will be signed between the Ministry of Defense and the Antonov State Enterprise for three An-178 aircraft, which will be the first time in Ukraine since independence,” he says. “We have never ordered new planes.” An-178 is a Ukrainian medium-haul transport jet with a range of 3,680 km, cargo load of 18 tons,  and capacity to carry 90 soldiers. Turkey and Antonov are negotiating joint production of the An-178. During the summer of 2014, at the height of the Ukraine-Russia air war over the Donbas, three Ukrainian Air Force transport planes were shot down — an Antonov An-26, an Antonov An-30 and an Ilyushin Il-76.

Calling  the condition of the state railroad’s freight wagons “catastrophic”, the Cabinet of Ministers has adopted a “program of radical renewal” — replacing all 63,000 in the state fleet over this decade, reports the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture. With some wagons dating back to the 1960s, more than 90% of the wagons are past their service life. Noting that 24,000 used wagons have been imported in recent years from Russia, the Ministry warns that Ukraine risks “becoming a place for railway scrap written off by neighboring countries where operating restrictions apply.”

A total renewal of the wagon fleet will generate “billions of Hryvnia of government orders for Ukrainian manufacturers, hundreds of thousands of jobs, additional GDP growth of 2% per year,” the ministry predicts. Separately, private logistics operators in Ukraine own another 50,000 wagons. Private companies complain that when Ukrzaliznytsia locomotives bring their wagons into UZ workshops, they are often cannibalised for parts, usually brake pads. Last week, UZ signed the first contract with a private company — Lviv-based Ukrainian Locomotive Company — to haul cargo on UZ tracks.

Cracking down on overloaded trucks, the National Police checked 75,000 trucks last month, almost four times the number of checks performed in November of last year. So far this year, police have 665,000 trucks, almost double last year. With about 2% of trucks fined for violating weight restrictions, fines this year have totalled $4.5 million. By this time next year, there are to be 150 ‘Weight-in-Motion’ devices installed on Ukraine’s highways.

Air cargo through Kyiv-Boryspil is down by only 10% through November, compared to the first 11 months of last year. Air cargo dropped to 33,400 tons, Anton Borisyuk, the airport’s strategic development director said Thursday. By contrast, through October, passenger traffic was down by two thirds, hitting 4.5 million. Transfer passengers were down by 85%, passengers on regularly scheduled flights were down by 78%, and charter passengers were down by 40%.

Editor’s Note:  “It’s time to start treating Ukraine’s corrupt judiciary as a criminal syndicate,” reads a straight talking essay that pops the balloon of any happy talk that the Zelenskiy government is cleaning up the courts. “Bribery is routine,” Mykhailo Zhernakov writes in an Atlantic Council Ukraine Alert. “The Ukrainian authorities should not pretend that the country’s judicial system is in any sense capable of cleansing itself. Instead, we should treat it as a criminal syndicate controlled by the enemy.” Hardly an outsider, Zhernakov is a former judge. Today, he chairs the DEJURE Foundation, a group dedicated to giving Ukraine EU-standard courts. Until that happens, Ukrainians will continue to park their money in Cyprus and foreign investors will continue to watch from the sidelines. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, December 1

China’s Trade With Ukraine Soars to Double Russia’s Trade...US Press Detail Ukraine’s DC Lobby Against Nord Stream 2, Hunt for Mushrooms at Home...Ze’s Deputy Chief of Staff Sings Way Off Key as President Courts IMF...$200 Million Rebuild Moves Ahead for 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

China has roared ahead of Russia to account for twice as much of Ukraine’s trade this year, reports the State Statistics Service. For this year through August, China-Ukraine two-way trade totaled $9.4 billion. Russia trade totaled $4.8 billion. Germany was just behind, with $4.6 billion. The next four were: Poland — $4.5 billion; Turkey — $2.9 billion; Belarus — $2.5 billion; and United States — $2.5 billion.

DHL will create “a powerful logistics center” in Kyiv’s left bank Liski rail hub for container trains going to and from China, Ukrzaliznytsia CEO Volodomyr Zhmak writes of a memorandum of cooperation signed Friday between the state railroad and DHL Global Forwarding. To open up new east-west routes, UZ is finalizing similar agreements with BTLC Germany and Poland’s PKP Cargo Connect. To promote the rail hub near the Darnytsia rail station, Zhmak appointed last month Edvins Berzins, former chairman of Latvian Railways, to be executive director of what is formally called the Liski Transport Service Center. After starting last June, container trains now run almost weekly from China to Liski. Around Ukraine, there are now 36 routes regularly plied by container trains.

In “U.S., Russia Race to Outflank Each Other on Russian Pipeline,” Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Forrest recounts the down to the wire race to stop the Nord Stream 2 trans-Baltic gas pipeline, a line seen as rendering Ukraine defenseless against full-fledged Russian intervention. In the 1,800-word story, one villain emerges: US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Forrest writes: “Mr. Mnuchin, whose department enforces sanctions, was opposed, these former officials said. ‘He was a big hang-up at every turning point,’ said one.” Two Washington lobbyist heroes emerge: Vadym Glamazdin, a government-relations official with Naftogaz, and Oleksandr Kharchenko, an official at Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.

A bounty of mushrooms flowed out of Ukraine’s forests this fall, reports The New York Times, citing unusual weather: “a dry summer followed by an unusually warm fall and late first frost.” In “I Have Never Seen So Many Toadstools.’ A Bumper Crop of Mushrooms in Ukraine,” Times reporters interviewed Emilia Koleda, a grandmother selling mushrooms on the Kyiv-Chernihiv highway. Noting that her mushroom sales earned her money for firewood and school supplies for her grandchildren, said says: “Mushrooms saved so many people this year…Nature helped us through the quarantine.” Befitting the secrecy of mushroom hunters, the reporters chose as their dateline a Chernihiv settlement so tiny it does not appear on google maps.

With the Democrats returning to power in the White House, David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People Rada faction, hopes that Joe Biden will resume an Obama era practice of extending US guarantees to $1 billion in Ukrainian 5-year Eurobonds. The Obama Administration did this three times at the height of Ukraine’s post-Maidan financial crisis – in May, 2014, in May, 2015 and on Sept. 23, 2016, just before the election that brought in Donald Trump. With the US guarantee, the last bond carried the lowest rate in Ukraine’s history — 1.471%. With Ukraine’s reserves recovering the Trump Administration refused to refinance the first two issues. They were repaid in full.

Ukraine’s faces a bulge in repayments next fall, and Arakhamia tells Interfax-Ukraine that he hopes a Biden Administration will roll over the $1 billion bond coming due in September. “We hope that with the arrival of the new White House administration, we will be able to agree with our strategic partners on refinancing this loan,” Arakhamia tells the news agency. Ukraine’s international reserves are $24.5 billion.

No IMF funding for Ukraine until Zelenskiy earns trust,” headlines a stinging critique of the Zelenskiy government by Anders Aslund, the Swedish-American economist who has been watching Ukraine for 30 years. “If the Ukrainian government does not fundamentally revise its current economic policy and political trajectory, it is unlikely to receive any IMF, World Bank, or European Union funds for as long as Volodymyr Zelenskiy remains president,” Aslund writes in an Atlantic Council Ukraine blog. “Zelenskiy does not appear to grasp that the IMF takes its conditions seriously and does not want to be treated as just a source of cheap credits. Unlike the Ukrainian government, it is focused on structural reforms so that the Ukrainian economy can start growing at five to eight percent a year, rather than at minimal rates.”

The Zelenskiy administration’s effort to get back on track with the IMF hit an unexpected bump when Oleg Tatarov, deputy head of the administration, said Saturday that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau does not serve Ukraine’s interests and that its head Artem Sytnyk doesn’t have “the moral right” to run the agency and should be replaced. The next day, the Zelenskiy administration hurried out a statement saying Tatarov’s statement was: “His personal opinion that does not reflect the administration’s official position.”

The Anti-Corruption Bureau was created with Western advice and financing. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly assured the IMF that it will be retained. Two weeks ago, Zelenskiy met with G7 ambassadors and assured them that Sytnyk would stay on the job. Next week, the Rada is to vote on a bill that would guarantee the Bureau’s survival and Sytnyk’s role as head. In Washington, analysts predict that the Biden administration will use ‘tough love’ on Ukraine — conditioning support on free market, EU-standard reforms.

Ten Turkish and Ukrainian construction companies have applied to take part in the $200 million rebuild of Dnipro airport, reports Kyrill Khomyakov, head of Ukrinfraproekt, the State Agency for Infrastructure Projects. Qualified companies are to take part in a competitive tender. Expected to take several years, the project involves building a new concrete runway, jet taxiing aprons, lighting, navigational aids and a perimeter fence. Next year’s budget has allocated $50 million, or one quarter of the money.

Controlled by the Ihor Kolmoisky group, Dnipro airport has languished, recording Ukraine’s 7th largest volume of passengers last year. In 2019, Dnipro handled 338,888 passengers, sandwiched between Zaporizhia, at 434,000, and Kherson at 154,046. Separately, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy reported Sunday from Istanbul that a Turkish construction company wants to modernize Kherson airport, which is served by Turkish Airlines.

In Switzerland, airplane pilots who are unable to fly during the coronavirus pandemic may soon retrain to become train drivers.  With the support of Aeropers, the nation’s main union for cockpit employees, Swiss Federal Railways and Edelweiss Air are studying a pilot retraining. While dozens of jets are grounded in Switzerland this winter, the state-owned railroad is cancelling trains due to lack of staff. Converting a jet pilot into a locomotive engineer is expected to take less than one year.

In Berlin, DHL has painted its trademark yellow and red colors on 10 idle tour buses and converted them into ‘paketbussen.’ The parcel buses, including six double deckers, will receive and deliver packages to customers standing outside, minimizing contagion. Logistik Watchblog quotes Berlin’s Governing Mayor, Michael Müller, saying: “The parcel business, which will reach a new dimension due to the corona Christmas, is specifically facilitated with the paketbussen. It helps us to further reduce contacts.”

Editor’s Note: Drawing on 10 years covering news in South America, I believe Latins are often better skilled than Ukrainians at conflict avoidance. A South American president would know how to handle a troublemaker like Tatarov. An annoying writer or opposition politician would be called into the Italianate foreign ministry. With grave ceremony, he would be handed freshly penned credentials, appointing him ambassador to…India. Adios! Over the winter holidays, Zelenskiy could create a Ukrainian consulate in Vladivostok, an area once majority Ukrainian. To jazz up the job, it could be called a ‘Consulate General’ — responsible for an area larger than Western Europe, from Sakha to Sakhalin. To get in the mood on the loooong train ride across snowbound Siberia, Tatarov could read Chekhov’s 1893 “Sakhalin Island” — Остров Сахалин — a classic report on exile. With best regards, Jim Brooke.