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Tuesday, August 18 – the biggest impact of strikes spreading across Belarus

Belarus Strikes May Starve Ukraine’s Roadbuilders of Asphalt...Belarus Eurobonds: Worst Performers of Emerging Markets...Ukraine’s Garage Sale: Government to Auction Leases for 4,262 Empty Buildings...A Rebound Coming? Ukraine Buys Back GDP Warrants...
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

For Ukraine, the biggest impact of strikes spreading across Belarus may be a shortage of asphalt for President Zelenskiy’s $3 billion drive to pave 4,000 km of highways this year. Ukraine imports half of its asphalt in heated, liquid form from Belarus. “Objectively, there is nothing to replace Belarusian volumes — and this is half of the market,” Serhiy Kuyun, director of the A-95 Consulting Group, writes on his Facebook page. “Russian supplies are closed, and Ukrainian traders are just mastering imports by sea.”

Ukraine also gets about one third of its diesel and gasoline from Belarus. But the strikes and slowdowns will only result in a ‘hiccup’ for Ukrainian prices, Kuyun predicts. “First, we have been living with a huge surplus of diesel fuel and gasoline for half a year. Traders sell it to zero at best, the market is so overwhelmed. Second, the Ukrainian market is open for supplies from all sides.”

Most of Ukraine’s imports of Belarus petroleum products come from the Belarus’ largest refinery, in Mazyr, on the Pripyat River, 250 km north of Kyiv. According to Argus Media, it appears that Mazyr workers will be on a 3-hour lunchtime strike this week. At Naftan refinery, near Belarus’ northern border with Lithuania, workers are on strike. The refinery which is owned by Belneftekhim, was already shut down for scheduled maintenance.

On the IT front, Ukrainian IT companies are “already accepting individual divisions of IT companies in Belarus as guests,” Olha Kunichak, manager of the European Business Association’s IT Committee tells Interfax-Ukraine. “Ukrainian IT companies are ready to cooperate and help our northern neighbors.” To restrict protesters, the Belarus government has been shutting off the Internet. Ukraine started this summer a fast track program to grant work permits to foreign IT specialists. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, Ukrainian universities only graduate 15-17,000 IT specialists annually, while the fast-growing sector needs 40,000 a year.

Belarus Eurobonds handed investors a loss of 5.1% this month, the worst performance in emerging markets, according to a Bloomberg Barclays index. Since the 2031 bonds were issued on June 25, the yield is up by one percentage point.

Ukraine is recalling its ambassador from Belarus to protest Lukashenko’s “repeated and groundless” statements against Ukraine, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said yesterday. President Lukashenko’s return to of Russia mercenaries who had fought on the separatist side in the Donbas war, “derailed the trust between our nations and inflicted a heavy blow upon our bilateral relations,” Kuleba said.

Leases for 4,262 empty buildings totaling 2.5 million square meters – or 10 times New York’s Empire State Building – will go up for electronic auction this fall under streamlined rules approved last week by the Cabinet of Ministers, announces Leonid Antonenko of the privatization department of the State Property Fund. The full of list of leases to auctioned by ProZorro.Sales includes: 1,070 offices, 837 warehouses, 566 factories, 61 spaces at airports, and six sites for renewable energy plants at Chornobyl. While much of the vacant space is in the big five cities, there are thousands of square meters up for lease in Cherkasy, Kropyvnytskyi, Mykolaiv, Rivne and Zaporizhia.

Ukraine ranks first in a ranking of 39 Eastern European and developing countries for public procurement transparency. Following 64 indicators for the Transparency Rating, the authors placed Ukraine at the top with a score of 97% and Tajikistan at the bottom with a score of 38%. Poland got  74%, Hungary 67% and the Czech Republic 65%. Russia and Belarus were not studied by the group, the Soros-funded Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information. For the last four years, all government purchases of goods worth more than $7,300 have to go through the ProZorro on line tendering system.

Ukraine’s Finance Ministry has repurchased about 10% of outstanding GDP-linked securities, the Finance Ministry announced Friday on the Irish Stock Exchange. Known as GDP warrants, the securities have payouts triggered by two consecutive years of GDP growth. By spending up to $300 million to quietly buy back these securities, the government may be expecting a post-Coronavirus growth bounce next year. After Ukraine’s economy GDP fell 11.4% in Q2, the central bank predicts that economy will shrink by 6% this year, and rebound by 4% next year.

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy calculates that the purchase was at 90% of par and writes: “This is also a good signal for the holders of GDP warrants, as it indicates MinFin is anticipating large payments under the warrants in the mid-term.”

Timothy Ash writes: “Now most official forecasts have a 4% plus growth for 2021.With the changes at the [central bank], the Zelenskiy administration is going for a pro-growth agenda, which might mean lower rates, cheaper currency, perhaps looser fiscal – note minimum wage hikes.

In a sign the Corona-recession has eased, Ukraine’s electricity consumption in July was only 0.7% below last year’s level, according to Ukrenergo, the nation’s state power transmission company.  Industrial consumption was down 3.2% yoy, but household consumption was up 4.7% and consumption by chemical industries was up 15%.

The central bank expects to receive the second tranche from the IMF by the end of this year, Kyrylo Shevchenko, the new governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, says in an interview with RBK-Ukraina. The IMF approved the 18-month, $5 billion program on June 9, and the first tranche — $2.1 billion — was disbursed three days later. Release of the remaining $2.9 billion depends on four reviews. However, Shevchenko’s predecessor, Yakiv Smoliy quit on July 1, citing pressure from President Zelenskiy. Since then, talk of a September review has faded.

Last week, the central bank bought $223 million, strengthening the hryvnia mildly to UAH 27.3/$1. So far this year, the National Bank of Ukraine has bought $1 billion more than it sold, latest data show. Demand for dollars this summer has been weak as vacationers are largely bottled up inside the country, unable to take advantage of visa-free access to the EU.

Last year, Ukrainians made 26 million trips out of the country, while foreigners made 15 million trips here, according to the State Statistics Service. Tourism accounts for only 1.5% of Ukraine’s GDP, well below Belarus – 6.4% — and Georgia – 26.3%. To generate more inbound tourism, Ukraine has dropped visa requirements for Chinese tourists and allowed Indians, South Africans and Filipinos to apply for visas on line. “Simple arithmetic shows the advantages of visa liberalization: the average check of one Chinese tourist in Ukraine is about $950,” says SkyUp, Ukraine’s discount airline. After coronavirus and visa barriers drop, SkyUp mulls launching flights to: China, India, Bahrain Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

Reminder: UIA is offering two direct Kyiv-New York-Kyiv flights – next Monday Aug. 24, and the following Monday, Aug. 31. No additional New York flights are scheduled. Tickets only are available through the UIA site:  https://www.flyuia.com/ua/en/home.

From the Editor : In October 1991, I interviewed Stanislav Shushkevich, Belarus’ first president, who was then one month into the job. A smart man, Shushkevich has a doctorate in physics and was, oddly, chosen by authorities in Minsk to teach Russian to the American defector, Lee Harvey Oswald. Reporting for The New York Times, I asked Shushkevich a question of interest to my readers: “How many nuclear bombs do you have?” He responded: “I have no idea. Ask the Red Army.” Then, as in now, the biggest questions in Minsk are often answered 700 km to the east, in Moscow. This week, we may see whether Moscow props up Lukashenko for a few more years, or eases him into a sunny retirement at his hillside chalet above Sochi. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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Friday, August 14 – Nationwide Safety Checks Start on Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer

Nationwide Safety Checks Start on Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer...Behind the Blast: Russian Businessman Abandoned Ship, Cargo, and Ukrainian Crew in Beirut...Avangard May Close Egg Farms in Coming Weeks...Ukraine to Create Domestic Airline Based on Antonov Regional Jets...US Threatens to Stop Sending Oil to Belarus Through Odesa..
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

By Sept. 15, all of Ukraine’s ports are to complete “extraordinary measures for government supervision” of the import, handling and storage of ammonium nitrate, Prime Minister Shmygal has ordered. The explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port killed 171 people, wounded 6,500, left 250,000 homeless and cause $15 billion to the port alone.

Ukraine, Europe’s largest food exporter, is a major importer of ammonium nitrate, a key component of fertilizers. Last year, Ukraine imported 716,000 tons, at least seven times the volume of 2016, according to the State Statistics Service. Coming from Georgia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania, the chemical compound enters through a dozen ports – from Izmail to Mariupol. Inside the country, there are more than 600 warehouses for ammonium nitrate, Andriy Miselyuk, director of Dialogue Institute for Socio-Political Design, writes on his Facebook page.

At Pivdennyi, Ukraine’s busiest port, 9,600 tons of ammonium nitrate are stored “in accordance with all norms and standards,” the seaport administration says in a statement. The compound is “packed in big bags” at berths No. 1 and 2. “In this case, it is not explosive,” the port asserts, that bulk handling of the compound is dangerous. During the first six months of production, the chances of explosion are low. Ukraine consumes 1.5-2 million tons a year, an amount that makes for a steady rotation of stock. The Beirut stockpile, entirely in bags, was seven years old when it blew up.

Behind the devastating Beirut port explosion was a Russian business man who abandoned his ship, his 8-man Ukrainian crew and his cargo of ammonium nitrate in Beirut in 2013, according to a Reuters story, reported by 12 journalists in 11 cities, from Moscow to Panama City. Police questioned the de facto owner, Igor Grechushkin, aged 43, at his home in Cyprus about the cargo. The ship’s captain Boris Prokoshev, told Reuters from his home in Sochi that he sees Grechushkin and the ship’s charterer, Teto Shipping Ltd, as the same entity. Based in the Marshall Islands, Teto was dissolved in 2014.

Flying the flag of Moldova, a landlocked nation, the ship, the Rhosus, was loaded in Sept. 2013 with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate produced by Rustavi Azot, a nitrogen producer in Georgia. The cargo was destined for a commercial explosives factory in Mozambique. En route, it developed a leak and docked in Beirut. Four months earlier, safety inspectors in Seville, Spain detained the Rhosus for a series of safety violations, including a corroded deck. In Beirut, Grechushkin ordered the captain to load heavy road building equipment on the deck, reports according to 112.ua.

With the Rhosus disabled by the leak, Grechushkin abandoned the ship and the crew, both news agencies report. Four crew members were forced by Lebanese officials to stay on the ship for 11 months to prevent it from sinking. After a sailors aid group flew them home to Ukraine, the ship sank. According to Prokoshev, the captain, Grechushkin owes at least $150,000 in unpaid salaries. According to 112.ia, Grechushkin lives in Cyprus with his wife Irina, and their son, a student  at a private university in Scotland. Although Cyprus is a 45-minute flight or a 2-hour ferry ride from Beirut, the captain said Grechushkin never came to Beirut to check on the boat. The blast was so massive it was heard — and felt — in Cyprus, 200 km across the Mediterranean.

IFC is supplying a $35 million loan to help Galnaftogaz to improve its supply of fertilizer and fuels to small farmers. The Lviv-based company has pioneered allowing farmers to buy fertilizer and seeds in the spring, paying forward with ‘crop receipts,’ or liens on fall harvests. Galnaftogaz, with 357 OKKO-branded filling stations, is Ukraine’s largest fuel retailer. The loan from IFC, a World Bank unit, will also finance installation of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles.

After good weather in eastern and central Ukraine, the USDA has raised its Ukraine harvest forecasts to: 27 million tons of wheat, and 39.5 million tons of corn. “Yields are expected to be the second highest on record, with a previous record of 7.84 tons per hectare in 2018,” writes the US Department of Agriculture.

Ukraine’s Avangard, Europe’s largest egg producer, may close six of its 20 farms, cutting production by 20% by mid-October, reports Poultry World. UkrLandFarming, Avangard’s parent company, may have to lay off 2,500 employees. Avangard owner Oleg Bakhmatyuk says that due to ongoing court cases against him, he is unable to get bank loans. In 2010, Avangard raised $187.5 million in an IPO on the London Stock Exchange. But Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and occupation of half of Ukraine’s Donbas resulted in Avangard losing valuable properties. Although Avangard produced 2.6 billion eggs in 2018, its debt is estimated at $2 billion.

Next year, Ukraine will create a domestic airline based on a fleet of regional jets produced by Kyiv’s Antonov, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy said yesterday on a visit to Kharkiv State Aircraft Manufacturing Company. “Aircraft manufactured by Antonov will be used for regional transportation,” he said. To boost domestic air travel, Ukraine is abolishing the 20% VAT tax on domestic tickets. Last year, 16 of Ukraine’s 54 civilian airports carried passengers — on scheduled or charter flights. About 5 million people flew out of regional airports.

Betting that corona travel restrictions will ease, SkyUp announces seven new international routes for its winter schedule. Starting Oct. 25, Ukraine’s discount carrier will fly from Kyiv Boryspil to Amman, Belgrade, Bratislava, Belgrade, and Stockholm. It will also start Kharkiv-Dubai and Lviv-Dubai. On Sept. 26, it will start Kyiv-Dubai, a route that is to become five times a week.

Starting today, Ukraine’s new electronic visa platform launches at this address: https://evisa.mfa.gov.ua/. Citizens of India, the Philippines and South Africa will be able to get electronic visas for travel to Ukraine for business, tourism, medical treatment, culture, science, education, sports, and journalism. The e-visa should be printed out to show at border control.

After Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko cracked down violently in the wake Sunday’s presidential election, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is considering ending oil shipments to Belarus. Most come through Klaipėda, Lithuania, to the Naftan refinery, in northeast Belarus. Several shipments of US oil have come this year through Odesa to Belarus’ southern refinery, in Mazyr, 50 km north of Ukraine. So far this year, Odesa has handled six tanker loads of oil for Belarus, largely from Azerbaijan.

From the Editor: One month ago, I ruffled feathers with news items gathered under the headline: “Will Russia Launch a Military Attack on Ukraine in August?” Now it seems my premonition of a Russian August surprise was off — by a couple of degrees. In Belarus, yesterday’s walkouts from big state-owned companies strengthen calls for a national strike. That could be Lukashenko’s endgame. With the White House distracted in the 81-day runup to the US presidential vote, Moscow could easily pull a Prague 1968 – roll in tanks to restore ‘order.’ Timothy Ash writes: “The Ukrainians are very concerned. They think the Russians’ game plan is take over Belarus, roll tanks up to the border with Ukraine, and then max pressure on Ukraine from the North and East.” Also from London, Keir Giles, writes a Chatham House essay: Watching Belarus Means Watching Russia Too. In Russian intervenes militarily in Belarus, “Ukraine would be forced to rapidly re-orient its defense posture to face a new threat from the north.” With Best Regards Jim Brooke