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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 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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Monday, February 1

Ze Sides with Biden on Motor Sich, SBU Agents Break up Chinese ‘Shareholders Meeting’…Ukraine’s First IKEA Opens Today in Kyiv…Epicenter, Foxtrot Report Strong Retail Growth…Sheraton Plans to Open in Kyiv By Year End…Kyiv Moves to Lengthen Sikorsky Runway…Russia Shuts Off Donbas, Crossings Down 99% yoy
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

State Security agents yesterday broke up a ‘shareholders meeting’ in Zaporizhia of Chinese and Ukrainian investors claiming ownership of Motor Sich, the helicopter and jet engine giant. On Friday, President Zelenskiy came down decisively on the side of the US, placing 3-year sanctions on four Chinese companies close to the Beijing government and on Wang Jing, the head of Skyrizon Aircraft Holdings, the main Chinese investor company.

Two weeks earlier, Wilbur Ross, then US Commerce Secretary, added Skyrizon to a list of companies classified as prohibited military end-users, saying its activities threaten U.S. national security. Ross said: “Skyrizon — a Chinese state-owned company — and its push to acquire and indigenize foreign military technologies pose a significant threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

Before sending agents to break down the doors of the meeting, Ukraine’s State Security agency, or SBU, warned Sunday that it “is documenting the facts of preparation for the destruction of the production facilities of the company.” For three years, the SBU has sought to block the takeover of Motor Sich, noting the China has a military helicopter production contract with Russia, a country that is waging a proxy war against Ukraine.

Ukraine’s “actions are a barbaric robbery and a serious violation of the legal rights and interests of Chinese companies operating abroad, an unprecedented disrespect for the principles and rules of international trade,” Skyrizon warned angrily in a press statement Saturday. “Sanctions against the company are erroneous and stupid actions that can only scare away potential investors from all over the world from Ukraine, finally drive the already dying aviation industry of Ukraine into a desperate situation.”

Skyrizon vowed to proceed with its $3.5 billion suit against Ukraine. China last year became Ukraine’s large trading partner. Ukraine’s two-trade with China through October was $12 billion. By contrast, Ukraine’s trade with Russia and with Germany was $6 billion. After Washington moved against Skyrizon, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the United States was using “all kinds of excuses” to suppress Chinese companies abroad.

Skyrizon’s Ukraine partner, DCH Group of Oleksandr Yaroslavsky, was more cautious, saying yesterday that “leading law firms” had concluded that “the Chinese investors are bona fide buyers and legal owners of the acquired shares in PJSC Motor Sich.” However, the Kharkiv group concluded: “All further actions of DCH will be carried out considering our interest in the development of the Ukrainian aircraft industry and exclusively in the legal field.”

Companies from several NATO countries, including Turkey, have looked at purchasing parts of Motor Sich, a conglomerate that employed 21,000 workers a decade ago. When the war broke out between Ukraine and Russia in 2014, Motor Sich lost its biggest customer and has been struggling ever since. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Friday: “I do not see any connection between the situation with Motor Sich and the general investment climate in the country.”

IKEA opens its first bricks and mortar store in Ukraine today, at Kyiv’s Blockbuster Mall, the company announces on Instagram. The store will be the first in SE Europe new ‘city format’ – 5,000 square meters, instead of the usual 30,000 square meters. The Swedish furniture retailer has tried to enter Ukraine for the last 15 years. It was blocked first by corruption then by construction delays at Ocean Mall.  Last May, IKEA started an internet store and was immediately overwhelmed. Since it opened distribution points in three Kyiv shopping centers:  Auchan Rive Gauche, Metro Cash & Carry and Lavina Mall.

French sportswear brand Decathlon opens this spring its third store in two years in Kyiv. With the new store, Decathlon will have 8,500 square meters of retail space in Kyiv – in Prospekt mall, Lavina Mall, and Retail Park.

Last Monday, the first day after the January lockdown, about 300,000 shoppers visited Epicenter shopping centers around Ukraine – up 50% yoy, reports the Epicenter K press service. Best sellers were household chemicals and personal care products – up 170%. “The surge in trade in the first days is quite expected, because during the three weeks of lockdown we constantly received dissatisfied feedback from customers who were not able to buy the necessary goods,” said Vladimir Goncharov, deputy director general of Epicenter K, Ukraine’s largest retailer.

Despite the harsh spring lockdown, Foxtrot achieved a 20% growth in sales of its retail electronics last year, Foxtrot CEO Alexey Zozulya reports. On line sales grew strongly, with 9 million people visiting Half of online buyers took advantage of the new ‘self-pickup’ service at Foxtrot stores. Sales through all channels registered this growth: smartphones +14%; TVs +28%; computer equipment +67%; and laptops +80%.

Marriott International expects to open its first Sheraton in Ukraine, at Kyiv’s Olympiysky complex, by the end of this year, according to a press release. Delayed for a decade, the hotel project received new impetus last fall when the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation approved a $27 million loan for completing the hotel. The 14-story hotel will have 196 rooms and underground parking for 144 cars. The building stands at Velyka Vaslkyivska 55, between the sports stadium and the Olimpiyska metro on the Blue line. One kilometer to the north is Marriott’s other hotel in Ukraine, Aloft Kyiv, at Esplanadna 17.

The Kyiv City Council has made a preliminary decision to expand Sikorsky’s airport’s lone runway by 22%, to 2,810 meters.  This would allow larger aircraft, such as Airbus A321, to land at Kyiv’s Right Bank airport, historically known as Zhuliany. Potentially, this would mean flights arriving from as far away as Bangkok.

Russia-controlled Donbas has virtually closed itself off from Ukraine-controlled Donbas, according to figures cited by the Kyiv Post. From 250,000 weekly crossings in January, 2020, the number of weekly crossings fell to less than 1,000 last month. Closures that started last March to contain coronavirus have become permanent. Of seven crossing points, five are closed and two, one for Donetsk and one for Luhansk, work shortened hours, only allowing crossings by people with ‘special permits.’ “Bars are open, clubs are open, the border with Russia is open, the only thing closed is the crossing points into Ukraine,” ‘Darya, a young mother, tells Post reporter Oleksiy Sorokin. “Everyone knows (the militants) are just making money on it.”

Editor’s Note: An iron curtain has descended along the 420km line that separates Ukraine-controlled Donbas and Russia-controlled Donbas. As the Kyiv Post reports crossings have plummeted to less than 1% of one year ago. The Trojan Horse was the coronavirus quarantine. This quietly evolved into severe controls, then ‘special permits’ Presto! 2 million people are bottled up on the wrong side of the fence. It should not be a big surprise. Half of the population of Russia-controlled Donbas had already left – a migration that Ukraine’s newly ascendant pro-Russian politicians prefer to ignore. It took East Germany 15 years of population drain before it started building its ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’ — the Berlin Wall. The price of that delay probably was not lost on one sharp KGB officer who served in East Germany from 1985 to 1990 – Vladimir Putin. For the rest of us, if you sleep through the history of the second half of the 20th century, you snooze, you lose. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Monday, September 7

Ukraine Beckons Belarus IT...China’s Skyrizon Moves to Arbitration with Ukraine over Motor Sich...Middle East Becomes Ukraine’s Top Poultry Export Market...Real Wages up 5%...Corona Spreads: Ukraine Now Has Europe’s Third Fastest Rate of New Infections...
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

Recruiting Belarus IT workers – Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Ministry has opened a special web portal for Belarusian IT specialists who want to move to Ukraine and has hired Denis Aleinikov, a Belarusian lawyer who developed a special, low tax IT zone in Minsk. “About our initiative to support IT professionals living in Belarus…there is technical support, which works 24 hours a day and already helps specialists from Belarus,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, said Friday while introducing Aleinikov to reporters. Of the 4,500 Belarusians who have fled to Ukraine to escape the police violence in Belarus, more than 300 are IT workers, Fedorov said.

Aleinikov is to help the Rada draw up a low tax, liberal labor law IT park similar to the Hi-Tech Park he helped build near Minsk. The park now has 880 registered companies. Last week, President Zelenskiy signed a decree giving the Rada 90 days to draw up legislation. “The Presidential Decree is public support, the political will for this project to move forward faster,” Fedorov said Friday. “We will create the world’s most comfortable economic zone with low taxes, legal employment, high wages. Favorable conditions for startups and entrepreneurs.”

With this investment regime, Fedorov aims to create an additional 450,000 IT jobs in Ukraine by 2025, generating $12 billion in economic activity. Last year, Ukraine’s IT exports grew 30% yoy, to $4.2 billion. Currently, Ukraine’s 4,000 IT companies employ 200,000 specialists. Short of staff, Ukrainian companies look north to Belarus where 60,000 IT specialists work in Minsk alone.

“Belarusian tech companies leave their country amid protests, move to Ukraine” headlines a Kyiv Post article featuring interviews with Belarusian IT workers who are moving or considering moving south. After the largely discredited Presidential vote of August 9, 168 IT workers were arrested in protests. Since then, the internet has been repeatedly turned on and off. Over 2,500 IT executives and workers signed an open protest letter to President Lukashenko. “People can’t focus on work because of the constant stress,” George Kachanouski, founder of Scootapi, says from Minsk. “Many companies plan to relocate temporarily now, but if the dictatorship wins, then for good.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is signaling that the poisoning of Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, could imperil the Nord Stream 2, the Russia-Germany Baltic pipeline. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper said he hopes that Russian non-cooperation in the investigation would not force Berlin to “change our stance” on the pipeline. With the exception of the far right, political parties across the spectrum have called on Merkel to freeze Germany’s participation. The Financial Times reports from Berlin that the 1,230 km pipeline is 88% complete. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, chairman of the Nord Stream shareholders’ committee, told a Bundestag committee in June that the pipeline total cost will be €12 billion.

China’s Skyrizon company has notified Ukraine’s Justice Ministry that it intends to start international arbitration against Ukraine over access to the Motor Sich aircraft engine factory, reports UNIAN. Noting that it bought 56% of Motor Sich shares in 2016, Skyrizon is demanding $3.5 billion in damages for being unable to enter the factory complex for the last four years. Skyrizon argues that moves by Ukraine’s State Security office and Anti-Monopoly Committee violate the China-Ukraine investment protection treaty adopted by both countries in 1992.

During the first half of this year, Ukraine’s poultry exports were virtually constant in volume – 212,300 tons – but down 12% in monetary terms, to $271 million, reports Poultry World. At a press conference in Kyiv, Sergey Karpenko, executive director of the Union of Poultry Breeders, warns  that a government plan to create a new agency to replace Gosprodpotrebzlyuzba, the state food safety regulator, could disrupt exports as new certificates will have to be negotiated with the veterinary agencies of importing countries.

The Middle East has displaced the EU as the top destination for Ukrainian chicken meat, reports The Poultry Site. The change is due partly because of new EU quotas and an avian flu outbreak in Vinnytia in January. In the first half of this year, the biggest markets were Saudi Arabia – 18%; the Netherlands – 17%; and UAE – 12%. For MHP, Ukraine’s largest producer, poultry exports were down by 10% during the first half, to 170,553 tons. Last year, MHP’s exports were up 25% yoy, to 357,400 tons. 

The number of new filings for unemployment aid have dropped steadily: from 149,000 in April to 68,000 in July, reports the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture. Since the government adopted corona quarantine measures in mid-March, the government has paid $272 million in benefits to 432,000 people, about $630 per person.

Real wages were up 5% in July yoy, reports the State Statistics Service. The biggest growth sectors, in nominal terms, were: medicine and social services – +18% yoy; and IT and telecom – +14.4% yoy.

ICU writes: “The recovery of wages confirms a quite rapid exit of the labor market from the coronavirus-induced recession. The rebound of workers’ income is also evidenced by the high growth rates of retail trade and production of consumer goods.”

After a record week of coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Shmygal vowed that there will be no repeat of last spring’s lockdown. “We understand, both the government and the state leadership, there can be no second lockdown in Ukraine — most countries realize this,” he told a business forum Friday evening at Kyiv’s UNIT.City. “Closing down the country over the quarantine as it was in the spring, is impossible.”

Even with Sunday’s dip to 2,107 new cases, Ukraine’s ranks third in Europe for new cases, behind only France at 7,071, and UK at 2,988, according to Worldometer’s Coronavirus tracker. Worldwide, Ukraine ranks in 9th place for new infections. Despite this surge, schools last week opened across Ukraine, with the exceptions of 5% of the nation, which is classified ‘red.’

Starting today, two regional capitals, Ivano Frankivsk and Ternopil, are classified red. In advance, the mayors of both cities sued the Cabinet of Ministers in Kyiv District Administrative Court. The list published by the Cabinet of Ministers shows that most orange and red areas are in Western Ukraine. Although Kyiv city registers about 300 new cases a day, it is classified yellow, largely due to the large population.

One upside of Ukraine’s increasing infection rate: the Health Ministry has reduced its list of ‘red’ zone countries to 35. Red zone countries – those with recent infection rates above Ukraine’s 80/100,000 – include the US, Israel, France, Spain, Croatia, Moldova, and Romania. Travelers from these countries have to self-isolate until they test negative for Covid-19. Ukraine’s borders are largely closed to foreign travelers until the end of the month. Due to Ukraine’s high infection rate, foreign travel and foreign flights from Ukraine are restricted.

The new spread of the virus has hit home for many Ukrainians with the news of the hospitalizations in Kyiv of two well-known figures. Filaret, the 91-year-old Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate was in stable condition Friday at a Kyiv hospital. Yulia Tymoshenko, the 59-year-old leader of the Fatherland political party, emerged last week from intensive care. “Fighting off a serious disease for almost two weeks alters the perception of reality,” she wrote on Facebook from a Kyiv hospital. “Although recovery is still a distant prospect, now there is an opportunity to return to normal life, step by step.” She signs off: “Thank you and hug you tight. Everything will be fine!”

From the Editor: Belarus’ strongman Lukashenko may have soured on the IT industry after they became a pillar in the national awakening against his 24-year rule. Now, he may provide the world a reminder of how mobile IT can be. A few years ago, when I was getting consular work done at Ukraine’s Embassy in Bangkok, I chatted with a Kyiv programmer who was happily working for a Kyiv company – and living on an island in the Gulf of Thailand. One of my sons, William, has an IT startup in Brooklyn, NY. He employs two programmers in Ukraine, one in Lviv and one in Dnipro. His business partner is a Belarusian living in Sofia, Bulgaria. Many IT workers live by the motto: have modem, will travel. With Best Regards Jim Brooke