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Friday, November 27

As Covid Beds Fill Up, Officials Debate December Lockdown...Finance Ministry Says It Agrees with IMF on 2021 Budget...Judges Cost Ukraine Billions in Soft Loans...Europe’s Green Bond Vogue Reaches Ukraine...Mobile Internet Planned for Road and Rail
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

With 76% of coronavirus unit beds occupied in Ukraine, authorities fear the country cannot make it to the Christmas holidays without imposing a major lockdown. One option would be to impose a lockdown after schools let out in three weeks for the Christmas break, on Friday afternoon Dec. 18. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s powerful Interior Minister, argues for an earlier, faster lockdown. “We need to introduce a lockdown as soon as possible, for three to four weeks,” he said on Ukraine 24 TV. “We are talking about really systemic, huge risks to our people’s health.”

Driving the urgency are record numbers. Yesterday, the reported daily toll of new infections hit 15,331 and the daily death toll hit 225. New infections in Kyiv yesterday hit 1,399.  The Health Ministry reports that of the nation’s 57,446 hospital beds for Covid patients, only 13,653, or 24% are free. Last month, President Zelenskiy drew the lockdown red line at 9,500 new cases a day. Days later, he moved the line to 15,000 daily cases. At a minimum, the government is expected to extend the weekend lockdowns. They were to end after this weekend.

The Finance Ministry says it has reached agreement with the IMF on the size of Ukraine’s 2021 budget deficit. By postponing an increase in the minimum wage to the end of next year and taking other measures, the Ministry cut $1 billion off the $47 billion budget, reducing the proposed deficit from 6% to 5.5%. The budget must be approved in December. To restart the IMF agreement, the Rada has to pass laws to restore and protect anti-corruption agencies.

Ukraine has only received half of $6 billion international funding expected for this year, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said last night on the Right to Power talk show. Alluding to foot dragging by the Rada and obstructionism by the Constitutional Court, he blamed “non-adoption of laws in time, and because of decisions of judges.”

President Zelenskiy is about to sign a bill that would provide state guarantees for ‘green bonds’ to help pay Ukrenergo’s overdue debt to solar and wind producers, Acting Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko told reporters yesterday. With the overdue debt approaching $1 billion, the government might launch $400 million worth of green bonds, he said. Later in the day, a Finance Ministry investor relations manager Alla Danylchuk emailed Bloomberg, saying the Finance Ministry has no plans to issue green bonds.

The government plans to close about half of the nation’s 33 state-owned coal mines during this decade, Deputy Energy Minister Maxim Nemchinov said yesterday at the presentation of a presentation of the results of a poll of residents of coal mining towns. The most economically promising mines are around Vuhledar, a Donetsk area which produces both anthracite and bituminous coals. The Ministry is studying British and German experiences with closing mines and retraining and often relocating miners. Last year, the ministry changed its name from Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining to Ministry of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Ukrzaliznytsia has approved a framework agreement to allow private locomotives to operate on UZ tracks. The signing of the first contract with a company, Ukrainian Locomotive Construction Company LLC, should happen “as soon as possible,” Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy said yesterday. Based in Lviv, Ukrainian Locomotive plans to haul freight on nine sections of track in Western Ukraine. The Ministry’s press service said: “Interest from the market was significant.” Private freight railroads already operate in all of Ukraine’s EU neighbors – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

The Digital Transformation Ministry has set these targets for extending high speed mobile internet across the country: accessible to 90% of the population by July 1, 2021; all international highways by Jan. 1, 2023; and all national roads by July 1, 2024. Digital Minister Mikhail Fedorov tells reporters in Kyiv: “Next year we want to focus on the coverage of roads and strategic highways.”

For rail travel, Vodaphone Ukraine is conducting a pilot project with the 35 km Boryspil Airport Express to determine cost for high speed internet coverage on Ukraine’s main rail lines. With about 10,000 km of main lines to cover and 3,000 passenger cars to equip with internet, public investment will have to complement investments by the three mobile operators, Olga Ustinova, general director of Vodafone Ukraine, told reporters Tuesday. For road and rail, she said, Ukraine’s three mobile providers – lifecell, Kyivstar and Vodaphone – plan to finance about one third of the mobile internet cost.

With domestic tourism the trend, Ukrzaliznytsia seeks to win at least half of all tourists, luring them out of cars and buses. To attract riders, the state railroad has reduced prices of first class tickets and created an easier, online system for redeeming tickets before departure dates, Volodomyr Zhmak, UZ’s new CEO, told tour operators yesterday. Aiming at the highest end, the railroad is renovating for public charters the VIP cars that once were the preserve of the Communist Party elite. Through October, the number of train tickets sold in Ukraine dropped by 56% yoy, to 57.5 million.

In a boost for Carpathian tourism, Ukravtodor inaugurates tomorrow 45 km of mountain road to Synevyr National Park. Essentially opening up the west entrance to the park to tourists from Lviv, the rebuilt road crosses two mountain passes and over 19 restored bridges. With a cost of $24 million, the project was carried out by Turkey’s Onur Construction International. The state highway agency reports that 255 km of roads were rebuilt in Zakarpattia this year, one of the regional leaders for road repair this year.

Parkovy, central Kyiv’s largest convention and exhibition center, is now officially owned by Lyubov Efimova, mother of Ukrainian MP Maxim Efimov. Since opening in 2013, Parkovy has become a popular place for conferences. It has 22,000 square meters, a high end restaurant, underground parking and its own diesel power station. In Feb. 2019, the Maxim Yefimov, then an MP with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, confirmed that that the official owner of the facility was his mother, a US resident. Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine fine her last week $5,000 for not obtaining permission in advance to own 100% of the complex.

Iran plans to pay €200 million in compensation to families of the 176 victims of the Jan. 8 shootdown of the UIA passenger over Tehran, reports Al-Monitor news site. The money will come from the National Development Fund of Iran, not from the budget of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. An anti-aircraft unit of the Revolutionary Guards shot down the plane with two land to air missiles.

Betting that vaccines will tame Covid, SkyUp Airlines is planning a summer flight schedule of more than 60 routes from 21 countries. Betting also on the renaissance of Ukraine’s regional airports, half of the flights will be from four airports far from its base at Kyiv Boryspil. From Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa and Zaporizhia, SkyUp will fly to Georgia, Greece, Czech Republic and Italy. From Boyspil and several of the regional airports, SkyUp will fly to: Italy, France, Greece, Czech Republic, Georgia, Spain, Bulgaria, Armenia, Turkey, Israel, Cyprus, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Jordan, Sweden, Serbia, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

Editor’s Note: For Thanksgiving, an American friend and I went yesterday to the matinee showing of Atlantida, Ukraine’s new award-winning movie. Zhovten, my old friend, was scarier than the war movie. The cinema in Kyiv’s crowded Podil neighborhood was offering 17 films. But its empty café looked like an Edward Hopper painting. Soda and snack windows were deserted. Our screening, of an English subtitled version, drew seven moviegoers, each wearing a mask. All but couples sat warily in alternate seats. I hope Zhovten, which was rebuilt after a devastating fire, can survive the nuclear cold of this coming winter. This week, Dmytro Derkach, co-owner of Planeta Kino, assessed the prospects of a coronavirus Christmas and said he will probably close the chain and fire 500 employees. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, November 26

Naftogaz Wins No Tender Deal to Develop Black Sea Gas Field...Ukraine Now is Key Player in Eastern Europe Gas Market...EU Has Big Hydrogen Plans for Ukraine...Biden Is Expected to Block Nord Stream 2...Millions of Ukrainians Shop Online for ‘Black Friday’
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 yesterday granted Naftogaz the right to develop a massive Black Sea gas block without a tender. The Dolphin block, near Ukraine’s portion of the Danube river delta, is believed to hold at least 1 trillion cubic meters of gas – more than double the big Black Sea find announced recently by Turkey. “This means the possibility of producing up to 10 billion cubic meters per year,” Ukraine’s state oil and gas company announced on Facebook. In recent years, Ukraine has imported 11 to 14 billion cubic meters a year.

Seismic work could involve $40 million of investments in the first year, Naftogaz said on Facebook. “This means the possibility of attracting international investors, and at the same time – on the best terms for Ukraine,” the company wrote yesterday. Last month, Naftogaz unexpectedly pulled out of a $500 million Eurobond sale despite it being oversubscribed. Yesterday’s no tender decision by the Cabinet of Ministers cuts permitting delays. “The company will be able to start developing the shelf immediately after the adoption of the normative act,” Roman Abramovsky, Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, said at the Cabinet meeting.

Last year, an American company, Trident Acquisitions, won a competitive tender to develop the offshore block. The incoming Zelenskiy government refused to accept the results of this ‘Poroshenko tender.’ The issue languished for one year. Last night, Ilya Ponomarev, CEO of Trident, emailed the UBN: “This story has ended as we have predicted – no major [foreign energy companies], just no one showed up. So, the government threw our $1 billion offer out of the window. [Now it] will spend taxpayers money in Naftogaz to develop this difficult project in very uncertain times, assuming all risks themselves.”

Ukraine has become a key player in the EU natural gas market, storing 10 billion cubic meters of gas this fall for gas traders. With the European heating starting last month, Ukraine, for the first time in history, started re-exported stored gas to EU countries. “A significant milestone for the gas market is the start of the re-export of gas that was previously imported to Ukraine from the EU,” Sergei Makogon, CEO of the Operator of the Gas Transportation System of Ukraine, writes on Facebook. “Previously, there was only transit and import.” Integrating Ukraine into the regional gas system are: duty free gas storage, duty free short haul gas transportation through Ukraine, and new reverse flow gas pipelines.

The “U” factor: Ukraine’s growing role in Europe’s natural gas market,” headlines a 1,600-word article in S&P Global Platts. This year “access to both Ukrainian storage and inbound transport capacity resulted in large gas flows transiting Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary destined for Ukraine,” reports S&P.  “This in turn created the conditions for the growth of gas hubs in Central and Eastern Europe.”

Europe’s Green Deal commitment to renewables, hydrogen and decarbonizing energy sources “means that between 2030 and 2040, Europe may see a radical drop in demand for natural gas,” Andrian Prokip, wrote in a Kennan Institute essay: “New Era of Gas Wars between Ukraine and Russia? “That would likely mark the end of Russia’s energy expansionism.”

The EU ‘Hydrogen Strategy’ calls for dividing EU hydrogen production between the EU and its eastern neighbors. “This strategy stipulates that ‘the Eastern Neighborhood, in particular Ukraine, and the Southern Neighborhood countries should be priority partners,’” writes Prokip, an energy expert for the Wilson Center. “Ukraine could become a key partner of the EU in the production and export of hydrogen. In light of Ukraine’s current diminished role in natural gas transit…hydrogen export may become the basis for a revitalized, long-term cooperation and part of the real economic integration of Ukraine and the EU.

In reaction, Gazprom and Rosatom, the nuclear corporation, recently signed a deal to hydrogen production in 2024. Uniper, the German energy giant, says Nord Stream 2 could be repurposed to carry a blend of 80% hydrogen and 20% natural gas.

“Joe Biden Is Unlikely to Save Angela Merkel’s Pet Project,” headlines a Bloomberg article yesterday about the $11 billion, 1,239 km Russia-German Baltic Sea gas line. “U.S. opposition is likely to remain under Biden,” Bloomberg writes about Nord Stream 2.  “There’s American cross-aisle agreement” against Nord Stream, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President and Angela Merkel’s former defense minister, told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper earlier this month.

Democrats should not go wobbly on Nord Stream 2, The Wall Street Journal warns in an editorial: “Congress shouldn’t back off Russia sanctions in the annual defense bill.” “The incoming Democratic Administration wants closer cooperation with Western Europe,” wrote the conservative US newspaper. “That shouldn’t come at the cost of increasing NATO vulnerability to Russia. Congress would assist U.S. and European strategic interests if it gets the Nord Stream sanctions over the finish line in the lame duck session.”

The US Congress is targeting insurance companies in the latest strategy to stop the pipeline, Bloomberg reports from Washington. “House and Senate negotiators agreed to target insurers and technical certification companies working on the project in a defense bill that must pass by the end of the year.”

In advance of passage, US officials already are contacting companies to warn they may face sanctions, DPA reports from Washington. “We’re in the process of calling a number of these companies to make them aware that they’re likely engaged in sanctionable activity,” an official reportedly tells the German news agency.

Rozetka.ua, Ukraine’s largest online store is seeing record number of visitors to their site – 5.6 million on Tuesday. With the retailer’s ‘Black Friday’ sales going on all week, Vladyslav Chechotkin, Rozetka owner wrote on Facebook that some items already are running out. “Sales hit records,” he wrote. “We have run out of many products already, despite our large purchases.” The most popular items are: laptops, TV sets, vacuum cleaner robots, electric grills, men’s boots, women’s sneakers, and Lego blocks.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine has presented its annual Thanksgiving Awards to Mykhailo Fedorov, Digital Transformation Minister, and to Paul Niland, founder of Lifeline Ukraine, a national suicide prevention hotline focused on helping military veterans. Fedorov said of his work to simplify government services: “We have already created a mobile application and portal of electronic services ‘Diia’, introduced the first digital passports in the world, launched registration of a business in 15 minutes.”

Editor’s Note: In honor of Thanksgiving, my own Turkey Award goes to Péter Szijjártó, Foreign Minister of the neighboring republic of Hungary. In mid-October, as Americans were voting for president, Hungary’s top diplomat posted on Facebook a long, slashing video attack on Joe Biden. He charged that Vice President Biden spent more time in Ukraine than in the US outside Washington’s Beltway. After that wrongway bet, Szijjártó now learns that Biden’s Secretary of State will be Antony Blinken. From 1994 to 1996, Antony’s father, Donald Blinken, was US Ambassador to Hungary. The future US Secretary of State may well be hip to Hungary’s tricks. After the US election, Hungary’s hapless Foreign Minister flew to Phnom Penh to bond with a fellow authoritarian, Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Prime Minister for 36 years. But after their embrace, Szijjártó discovered he had Covid-19. The 67-year-old Cambodian dictator retreated into self-isolation for two weeks. Thai authorities cancelled all meetings with Szijjártó and sent him home on the first flight in the direction of Budapest. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, November 25

Reality Check: No IMF Aid This Year...Finance Ministry Raises Interest Rates to Sell Hryvnia Bonds...Capital Investment Drops 29%...Israel-Ukraine Free Trade Pact Starts Jan. 1...Looking Beyond Covid, SkyUp and New Airline Plan New Flights
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

Ukraine will not receive any additional tranches of IMF low interest loans this year, Tymofiy Mylovanov, former Economy Minister and newly appointed advisor to the President’s office said Monday night on the ICTV’s Svoboda Slova program. Under the $5.5 billion agreement signed last June, Ukraine received an immediate loan of $2.1 billion. By the end of December, it was to receive two more tranches of $700 million apiece.

Last summer’s purge of the Central Bank leadership and the court rulings that undermined Ukraine’s anti-corruption agencies apparently turned off the IMF. Last month, the head of Britain’s M-I6 intelligence agency reportedly warned President Zelenskiy that his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, is a Russian agent. Last week, the Kyiv Post published an interview with Stanislav Shevchuk, former chairman of the Constitutional Court, who charged that the Court’s “goal is to kill Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic vector.”

While the IMF awaits a positive resolution of the Constitutional Court standoff, Mylovanov said Ukraine could get an IMF “staff-level agreement.” This could unlock billions in EU and World Bank aid as well as improve access to the international Eurobond market. To facilitate talks with the IMF, Zelenskiy plans to send Oksana Markarova to Washington as Ambassador. A veteran of several IMF negotiations, Markarova served as Finance Minister in early March when Zelenskiy unexpectedly fired her.

Adamant Capital wrote last night: “Key requirements seem to be some kind of progress on resurrecting the [National Anti-Corruption Bureau’s] powers and a balanced 2021 budget (deficit, in all probability, needs to be lower than the current 6% of GDP target). Given that the state is currently in dire need of financing (we estimate that at least $5.5 billion of extra cash will be needed by year end to fulfill expenditure obligations), we expect Zelenskiy to do everything in his power for this scenario to materialize.”

The Finance Ministry jacked up interest rates yesterday and increase its sales of hryvnia bonds 30-fold, compared to the week earlier. By raising yields by one percentage point, to 10%, the Ministry sold $245 million worth of 4-month bonds. By raising the yield by 125 basis points, to 10.25%, the Ministry sold $119 million worth of 6-month bonds. These two sales, accounted for 90% of the hryvnia sales. In addition, the Ministry auctioned off €157.7 million in 1.2 year bonds at 2.45%, up 23 basis points from the last similar auction.

The companies of Serhiy Tigipko’s TAS Group plan to issue about $70 million worth of bonds next year, about 95% in hryvnia, Roman Gorokhovskikh, the Group’s international projects director, told the Ukrainian CFO Forum last week in Kyiv. Bonds will take the same amount of time to prepare as bank loans – 3-4 months — but will offer cheaper money, he said. Rather than offer bonds for the group, TAS will offer bonds for individual companies, offering yields between 3% and 10%, depending on individual company ratings.

Capital investment dropped 29% yoy, to $9.5 billion, for the first three quarters of this year, reports the State Statistics Service. Self-financing by companies accounted for 69% of total capital investment. Other sources were: local budgets – 8.6%; bank loans – 7.5%; state budget – 6%; family savings for residential housing construction – 5.2%; and foreign investors – 0.5%. Last year, capital investment was up 11% over 2018.

The Israel-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement starts Jan.1, President Zelenskiy tweeted yesterday. “The ‘green light’ to the growth of Ukrainian exports, closer cooperation in the fields of high-tech, engineering, investment,” is how Zelenskiy described. Although Zelenskiy signed the agreement in August of last year, Knesset ratification was held up by three parliamentary elections in one year in Israel. Zelenskiy hopes the deal will double bilateral trade from last year’s level of $1 billion.

Ernst & Young, is to prepare a tender for the concession to a private operator of the rail-ferry complex at Chornomorsk port, Infrastructure Minister Vladislav Krykliy announced yesterday. The tender to upgrade and operate the terminal will be held by June and should generate commitments to invest at least $5 million, Krykliy said. Separately, the Ministry plans to put up for tender by December a concession to run the port’s container terminal. The Global Infrastructure Facility, a World Bank partnership with country donors, is advising and partly funding the tender process. Opened in 1962 as Illichivsk, Chornomorsk has ferry service with Poti, Georgia; Karasu, Turkey; and Varna, Bulgaria.

Concession projects also are planned for parts of these ports: Odesa on the Black Sea; Berdyansk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov; and Izmail and Reni on the Danube. Three small, state-owned ports are to be put up for sale: Bilhorod-Dnistrovs’kyi, Skadovsk and Ust-Dunaisk.

Over the next three years, the government plans to oversee investments in upgrades at 14 regional airports: Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kherson, Kryvy Rih, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, Sumy, Vinnytsia,  Zakarpattia, and Zhytomyr. In Zakarpattia, Uzhgorod airport is to be replaced, probably on the site of an old Soviet airbase south of Mukachevo. Due to be carried out with a mix of public and private funds, the 14 airports are on a list of 103 priority investment projects approved last week by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Looking beyond coronavirus, a new Ukrainian airline, Bees Airline, plans to start service next month, offering charter flights between Kyiv Sikorsky and Egypt’s coastal resort cities. Managed by Yevgeny Khainatsky, SkyUp’s former managing director, Bees has leased and painted yellow and black two Boeing 737-800 jets formerly used by UIA. Next spring, Bees plans to add two more Boeings and possibly fly to Georgia.

SkyUp Airlines plans to start flights from Kyiv Boryspil next spring to Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Opened one month ago, this new airport replaces Schönefeld, Tegel and Tempelhorf airports. On Dec. 27, SkyUp inaugurates service to Kayseri, Turkey. Last month, SkyUp launched its ‘City Break’ long weekend option with flights to Dubai.

Poland has agreed to allocate 5,000 additional permits for Ukrainian trucks, Minister Krikliy announced on his Telegram channel. Good through January 31, the offer comes after Ukraine charged that by cutting trucking permits for Ukraine, Poland was violating Ukraine’s liberalized trade agreement with the EU. Poland is short of truck drivers. By squeezing the permits, Poland tries to get Ukrainian drivers to drive for Polish companies.

Editor’s Note: Everyone is so wary of conspiracy theories these days, that they may be missing the big one staring them in the face. If reports filtering out of Britain’s MI-6 are to be believed, the President’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, is a ‘Russian asset.’ Shortly after Yermak took the post last winter, pro-Western ministers, agency heads and central bank governors were eased out — one by one by one. Then, if the former Chairman of the Constitutional Court is to be believed, the Court’s untouchable judges started a holy war on the main pillars of post-Maidan governments. On Monday afternoon, while watching the geese at the Rivne Zoo, I was reminded of that elementary dictum, valid for all junior detectives: “If it walks like a duck, if it swims like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then maybe…” With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Friday, November 20

Ze Promises to Meet IMF Demands...Big Eurobonds by Christmas?...Reform Face Big Setback At State Arms Conglomerate...Turkey Blocks Russia in the Region...Aid for Roads and Rail Will Cut Isolation of Donbas...US Gives Aid to Protect Shipping in the Azov
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 day after speaking with the IMF Managing Director in Washington, President Zelenskiy made a video call to the G-7 ambassadors in Kyiv and promised to deliver on the IMF’s checklist. By the end of December, he promises to restore criminal liability for officials who falsify their asset declarations, to keep Artem Sytnyk as head of the Anti-Graft Bureau, and to “resolve issues of the Constitutional Court.” The Rada returns on December 1st. It is not clear if the President has the votes to pass the necessary bills. IMF MD Kristalina Georgieva tweeted after her talk with Zelenskiy: “Full agreement on actions needed prior to program review.”

The EU is ready to provide €1.2 billion in aid to Ukraine – if Ukraine complies with a list of conditions similar to the IMF’s list. Matti Maasikas, head of the EU delegation to Ukraine, tweeted this message yesterday after meeting with Yuriy Aristov, head of the Rada Budget Committee. Maasikas said: “The fiscal challenges facing Ukraine are huge, and the EU is ready to provide macro-financial assistance under well known conditions.”

Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko writes of Zelenskiy’s Tuesday night call: “The key question: is what was the purpose of the call? Considering that no IMF tranche will emerge in the nearest couple of months, and amid the high financing needs of Ukraine’s state budget till the end of 2020, we believe this was a cheer up call for Ukraine’s potential external lenders. Namely, we continue to expect the government will try to market a new Eurobond soon.”

Western joint production ventures with UkrOboronProm units will not be possible if the new Ministry of Strategic Industries succeeds in stopping reform of the nation’s arms industry, the UkrOboronProm’s reformist management warned in a public statement yesterday. “The Ministry has been systematically blocking the UkrOboronProm and defense industry reform for three months,” UkrOboronProm’s management wrote of the new Minister, Olehy Uruskiy, a 30-year veteran of Ukraine’s defense industry.

Separately, Mustafa Nayyem, UkrOboronProm’s Deputy Director-General, wrote Wednesday on Facebook of what looks like another counter-revolution for Ukraine. Of the takeover by the new Ministry last summer, he wrote: “We agreed in the hope of finding partners and like-minded reformers. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead of partnership, we faced systemic protraction in the development of strategic documents, the blocking of our draft bill and the reform as a whole.”

This critique was echoed by Canadian-American arms expert Lada Roslycky who wrote  on Wednesday in Vox Ukraine that the new Ministry of Strategic Industries is a “communist construct dating back to Soviet times.” With only seven employees, this ‘super ministry’ seems designed to block reform and exploit lucrative opportunities in a notoriously corrupt industry, critics charge.

While Western companies stay on the sidelines, Turkish arms manufacturers build joint ventures with Ukraine for drones, surface-to-air missile systems, military communications, tank protection systems and corvettes, Can Kasapoglu wrote in The Jamestown Foundation a piece titled: “Turkey and Ukraine Boost Mutual Defense Ties.” “Turkish-Ukrainian strategic ties look poised to bring about a new geopolitical reality in the Black Sea region,” Kasapoglu writes from Istanbul where he directs defense programs at the EDAM thinktank. Comparing Ukraine’s cooperation with Turkey to that of Israel and South Korea, he concludes: “Ukraine stands to become another important partner of this type, but with the additional political-military value of helping Turkey counter-balance Russia in the Black Sea.”

Azerbaijan’s victory in the 44-day war with Armenia thrusts Turkey into the spotlight as an increasingly muscular regional player, Taras Kuzio, a Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Professor, writing for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. “Ukraine and Azerbaijan are longstanding pro-NATO and pro-Western former Soviet states in a contested region which Russia demands the West recognises as its exclusive sphere of influence,” he writes for the venerable London think tank. “While the Azerbaijani–Turkish alliance has passed an important test of endurance, Turkey’s development of a new strategic alliance with Ukraine is in its embryonic days.”

UIA will resume flying to Yerevan, Armenia on December 4th. Flights were suspended two months ago because of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, about 250 km to the east of Yerevan. On November 10, a Moscow-brokered ceasefire stopped the fighting. Russian military peacekeepers and Turkish military observers are to monitor the ceasefire.

Rebuilding roads in Ukraine-controlled Donbas is the goal of a two new soft loans totaling €155 million, reported the Infrastructure Ministry. The World Bank is lending $65 million as part of its project: ‘Eastern Ukraine: Reunification, Restoration and Revival.’ The European Investment Bank is lending €100 million also largely for road repair and construction.

To further reduce the isolation of Luhansk and to protect the new roads, the Rada’s Transport Committee endorsed the construction of a rail line that would connect a 250 rail line in eastern Luhansk that is cut off from Ukraine’s rail system. Largely useless today, line runs south from the Russian border, near Lantrativka to Kondrashevskaya-Novaya and on to Russia-controlled Luhansk. Earlier this year, France offered to finance €100 million worth of railroad construction in Ukraine-controlled Luhansk.

The US is giving $4 million in aid to bolster Ukrainian Sea Guard units in Berdyansk and Mariupol. The US Embassy Twitter feed said: “The new equipment will help the Marine Guard deter and respond to aggression in the Sea of Azov around the clock.” The Sea of Azov is a binational body of water. After Russia opened the Kerch Strait Bridge in May 2018, Russian border control forces started stopping and delaying civilian ships going to Ukrainian ports. Last July, Washington approved the sale of up to 16 Mark VI patrol boats to Ukraine. The boats are designed to patrol coastal areas. The Sea Guards are part of Ukraine’s Border Control Service.

Through October, Mariupol port has handled 5.1 million tons of cargo, up by almost 10% over the level for the first 10 months of last year. Taking advantage of rail freight incentives to use the port, shippers sent 26% more ferrous metals and 35% more grain, reported the Sea Port.

Editor’s Note: Three weeks after the head of the IMF clearly asked President Zelenskiy not to touch the National Bank of Ukraine, he purged the central bank. Now, six month later, the president is back, asking the IMF for help. Bulgarians and Ukrainians know each other. There is not a lot of razzle dazzle the 42-year-old performer from Kryvyi Rih can use to impress the stolid, 67-year-old economist from Sofia. (She may listen on the phone, thinking: ‘I’m old enough to be your mother!’) With the IMF apparently in no rush to send more Western taxpayers’ money to Ukraine, the logjam may last until Joe Biden focuses on Ukraine — and unleashes his long-awaited tough love. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, November 19

Government Bets on Weekend Lockdowns to Stop Rising Corona Rates...IMF Chief and Zelenskiy Talk on Phone, Online Review Mission to Start Next Month...Solid European Support for Ukraine Joining EU...Higher Education: a Growth Export for Ukraine
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

Although Ukraine is recording record corona infections and deaths, the government believes weekend lockdowns will be enough to stop the nation’s rising infection rate. The nation is recording about 12,500 new infections a day. Without the Saturday-Sunday lockdown, the infection rate would jump by 50% to 20,000 new infections a day; Prime Minister Shmyhal told a government meeting yesterday.

With shopping centers closed last weekend, ‘mobility’ dropped by about 25%, said Viktor Lyashko, the deputy Health Minister. He says a well-enforced lockdown this weekend, could cut ‘mobility’ by 50% from normal levels. Even cutting mobility by 25% can cut transmission by two-thirds, Shmyhal said.

Last weekend, a string of big city mayors defied the lockdown. Whilst National Police who work for the Interior Minister,  shut down and fined 2,400 establishments, many of them in cities boycotting the lockdown call. Yesterday, a Rada bill to stop the weekend lockdown failed to get enough votes. Starting this weekend, PM Shmyhal has asked banks to close many of their branches.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said that he believes Ukraine can get to the Christmas holidays without a total lockdown. However, he warns: “The winter, in my opinion, will be very severe in terms of morbidity and the number of seriously ill.” Due to better treatment, the death rate for Coronavirus patients in Ukraine has fallen to 1.8%, down from 2.9% in the spring.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva tweeted yesterday about Ukraine: “Constructive call with President Zelensky on IMF program implementation, Central Bank independence and anti-corruption efforts. Full agreement on actions needed prior to program review.” Ukrainian officials said the upshot of the call would be an online IMF review of Ukraine’s IMF standby agreement next month and disbursement of a second tranche in the first quarter of 2021.

President Zelenskiy said after the Tuesday night call: “To date, all the structural beacons provided for the revision of the IMF program have been fulfilled.” Zelenskiy assured the head of the IMF that his government is countering moves by the Constitutional Court to abolish anti-corruption agencies designed with Western help since 2015. Zelenskiy tweeted: “Our teams enjoy strong trust & work closely to welcome the IMF mission ASAP.”

Deputy Finance Minister Yuriy Draganchuk told Korrespondent.net that there are no “formal preconditions for not giving us a tranche or sending a mission.” However, he added: “They look at the general situation in the country, which is not entirely positive now. The [Constitutional] Court does not represent our country in the best light and, indeed, may send some negative signal to the IMF. I hope that joint efforts will resolve the constitutional crisis.

Veteran British financial observer Timothy Ash was skeptical, emailing clients: “[I] cannot see IMF disbursements until the new US administration takes office and puts new focus on Ukraine.” Predicting that Ukraine could float 10-year Eurobonds at 7% yields, he said: “I assume the Ministry of Finance will use the phone call with the IMF MD to come to market very soon with a new Eurobond deal – and likely before a new IMF mission hits the runway/zoom button.”

Dollar-denominated bonds accounted for 85% of revenue raised on Tuesday at the Finance Ministry’s weekly auction. A total of $76 million 1.2-year dollar bonds went for 3.77%, up 15 basis points from one week earlier, the Ministry posted on Facebook. Yields also rose slightly for the hryvnia bonds, which netted the equivalent of $13.3 million. The 1-year hryvnia bond was the most popular, going for an average yield of 10.5%. Despite the higher yields, the Ministry raised slightly less than one third the amount of the previous week.

The Finance Ministry is not considering issuing hryvnia government loan bonds to help pay off the $800 million debt owed to solar and wind producers of electricity, Deputy Finance Minister Yuriy Draganchuk told Korespondent.net. “There will definitely not be government bonds,” he says of support for Ukrenergo. “There will be either state banks or international donors.” The American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine supports a bill in the Rada which would allow issuing of additional government bonds by raising the state budget deficit by $700 million. Since July, the EBRD and the European Investment Bank have discussed participating in a settlement. They have not made public any decision.

University education is a major export for Ukraine. Last year, 80,500 foreign students spent $570 million here for tuition alone, reports the Kyiv Post. Adding food, lodging, airfare, and services, this spending could total $1 billion a year. Indian nationals account for almost one quarter of the students. Other major source countries are: Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Nigeria, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

55% of people polled in France, Germany, Italy and Poland support Ukraine joining the European Union, according to an internet-based survey of 4,000 people polled at the end of September for the New Europe Center. The top obstacle to Ukraine joining the EU is corruption, according to 43% of respondents. This was up from 33% five years ago. The portion of respondents who associate Ukraine with war is 12%, down from 49% in 2015. About 38% of interviewees support Ukraine joining NATO.

Due to the Constitutional Court’s October 27 decision that filing fraudulent asset declarations should be punished, the Ukraine’s new High Anti-Corruption Court said Tuesday that it was forced throw out its own conviction of a judge last year. Anti-corruption activists predict that at least four other corruption rulings will be thrown own. Over the last 10 days, the Anti-Corruption Court dropped investigations against two more judges and against the mayor of Odesa, Gennadiy Trukhanov.

Concorde Capital’s Zenon Zawada writes: “This is yet another negative consequence of the scandalous October 27 ruling, which has been quite destructive, not only for Ukraine’s anti-corruption infrastructure but also its image among its Western sponsors… many critical convictions – intended a signal to deter others – will be lost forever.”

The Rada lacks the political will to approve bills that world restore the electronic declarations or deal with the Constitutional Court, a body determined to dismantle much of the Europe-oriented institutions adopted since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, the parliament’s deputy speaker Olena Kondratiuk told ICTV ‘Freedom of Speech’ program. “Unfortunately, now there is no political will in the parliament to pass any bill concerning both the return to electronic declaration […] and the reconstruction of the Constitutional Court,” she said, predicting that any action will be deferred until Dec. 1.

“Now you’ve got to put people in jail,” Joe Biden recalls in his 2017 memoir saying to Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Then Vice President Biden made the exhortation in a speech to the US-Ukraine Business Forum on July 13, 2015.

Editor’s Note:  A couple of years ago, Krzysztof Siedlecki, the gregarious Polish president of the European Business Association, liked to tell Kyiv audiences that Ukraine’s war on corruption was: ‘Like watching sport fishing on TV.’Pause. ‘Catch and release… Catch and release….’ Har har. Since then, the EBA presidency has rotated. But Ukraine’s sport fishing traditions continue unchanged. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, November 18

Western Reformers Purged from Defense Agencies...Hopes Fade for Foreign JVs...Nova Poshta Hires 2,500 for Christmas and Beyond...Road Builders Hit 93% of Target...Open Skies Start Early Next Year...Western Watchers See Ukraine At a Crossroads
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

With the third departure in six weeks, the purge of pro-Western reformers from Ukraine’s defense industry continued with Monday’s abrupt firing of Volodomyr Usov, the head of Ukraine’s Space Agency. On Nov. 4, Oleksandr Los resigned as CEO of Antonov, ending four months on the job. On Oct. 6, Aivaras Abromavičius resigned as director general Ukroboronprom, the defense production conglomerate. All three men advocated ‘corporatization,’ or the creation of smaller, profitable companies to save an industry starved by lack of budget funds.

By creating transparently run companies, the directors hoped to open doors to join ventures with foreign, NATO-standard companies wary of getting tarred by corrupt practices at state defense manufacturers. Usov was fired four days after he signed the Artemis Accords, a US-led alliance of Western space programs which has the goal of landing “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024. “Congratulations to Ukraine!” the US Embassy tweeted apparently unaware the Usov was about to be fired. “On Nov 12, it became the 9th country to sign the Artemis Accords.” Russia harshly criticizes the program.

Behind the firings is Oleh Uruskiy, a Soviet-trained, three-decade veteran of Ukraine’s defense industry. Appointed First Deputy Prime Minister last summer, Uruskiy is creating a ‘mega-ministry’– the Ministry for Strategic Industries. This ministry is to include Antonov, the space industries and the two rocketry giants, Pivdenne design bureau and Pidvenmash factory.

Critics say modernization is stopping and new structures are opaque. “With the choice of this manager, Volodomyr Zelenskiy really made a mistake,” Ivan Sergienko writes in Lenta.ua. “Uruskiy is not only incapable of dealing with a rocket construction project, but also, in principle, of carrying out elementary things to launch the work of the ministry… of the declared 330 employees of the ministry, at the moment there are only seven people working – the minister, his deputies and advisers…The ministry is needed to block real reforms in the defense industry.”

The Chinese investors in Motor Sich have hired three well known international law firms to pursue their claim against Ukraine for $3.5 billion in compensation for being blocked from taking over the aircraft engine manufacture. As reported by their Ukrainian partner, DCH, the firms are: WilmerHale, DLA Piper and Bird & Bird. Arzinger will act as an advisor on Ukrainian law in international arbitration. DLA Piper was in the headlines last week when it was announced that one of their Washington partners, Doug Emhoff, will leave the firm next month to avoid conflicts of interest. He is the husband of Kamala Harris, who is to be sworn in as Vice President on Jan. 20.

With e-commerce booming, Nova Poshta is hiring 2,500 drivers, couriers and sorters. Although the hiring is for the Christmas rush, Alexander Bulba, CEO of the delivery company, says: “After the high season, new employees can stay on a permanent basis.” So far this year, Nova Poshta has opened 1,300 new offices in Ukraine, increasing its network by 22%, to 7,145.

With the first snow falling yesterday, Ukravtodor announced that it reached 93% of its target of rebuilding 4,200 km of roads during the 2020 highway construction season. Next year, the state highways agency plans to oversee the repair or rebuilding of 6,800 km of roads, almost 75% more than the amount completed this year. Ukravtodor CEO Oleksandr Kubrakov reports three main sources of money for this year’s roadbuilding: $1 billion from the Road Fund; almost $1 billion from the Stockholm arbitration with Gazprom; and $540 million from international organizations, such as the World Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Roads were paved in all 24 regions this year. Six were leaders: Kharkiv — 262 km; Zakarpattia – 248 km; Zaporizhia — 220 km; Sumy -197 km; Khmelnytskyi –194 km; Cherkasy 163 km; and Lviv 155 km. Next year, Ukravtodor plans to rebuild 150 bridges. Two big ticket projects start next year: Kyiv’s $3 billion ring road; and construction of a new $430 million bridge over the Dnipro, in Kremenchuk.

The number of foreigners entering Ukraine has plunged by 75% so far this year. Through September, 2.7 million foreigners visited Ukraine, down from 10.7 million during the first nine months of last year, according to the State Border Guard Service. Spending by foreign tourists is estimated to finish this year at 80% below last year’s level of $1.6 billion, forecasts the National Bank of Ukraine. Spending by Ukrainians for foreign travel is down by 55% yoy, to $3.3 billion through September.

The EU plans to sign an ‘open skies’ agreement with Ukraine in the first quarter of next year,  Katarína Mathernová, the European Commission’s deputy director-general for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. First initialed in 2013, the deal was held up over the Britain-Spain standoff over Gibraltar airport. After Britain leaves the EU at the end of next month, the agreement can be signed.

Notable and Quotable:

“It’s not a coincidence the Constitutional Court decided to demolish anti-corruption reform right in the middle of an American election,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, tells Dan Peleschuk for a Slate article, “Don’t Forget About Ukraine.” The goal, she adds, is to “make Ukraine truly look like a failed state.”

“Oligarchs are further coopting Rada members, judges, and others to undermine the President’s agenda,” Kristina A. Kvien, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires in Kyiv, said at the Ukraine Reform Conference, as reported by UNIAN. “Their primary goal is their own personal enrichment achieved by any means possible, including bribery, coercion, and even joining with outside forces that wish to see Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration fail ultimately.”

“As US vice president, Biden was at the forefront of an anti-corruption reform agenda that aimed to facilitate Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community,” Peter Dickinson writes in an Atlantic Council blog, “What can Ukraine expect from a Biden presidency?.”  “Some hope Biden will now revive these efforts and help undermine an attempted counter-revolution that is currently gaining momentum in Kyiv with support from Ukraine’s pro-Russian political forces and the country’s oligarchs.”

Editor’s Note:  Half a century ago, US Attorney General John N. Mitchell told reporters: “You will be better advised to watch what we do, not what we say.” That advice backfired on Mitchell. He ended up spending 19 months in jail for Watergate crimes, partly unraveled by reporters from The Washington Post. But Mitchell’s advice stands the test of time. Here in Ukraine, President Zelenskiy resolutely faces West, while marching backwards — to the East. Starting with the March 3 Cabinet purge, the President has methodically removed most prominent pro-Western reformers. Last Thursday, the young IT entrepreneur running Ukraine’s Space Agency signed the moon shot alliance of Western space agencies, a project roundly criticized by Russia. On Monday, the space director is fired. Can anyone connect the dots? With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Tuesday, November 17

Ambassadors: Solar and Wind Debts Tarnish Ukraine’s Investment Image...Despite Debt and Rate Cuts, New Solar Projects Start Across the Nation...Ukraine’s GDP Rebounded in Q3...$110 Million for 10 Regional Airports Next Year
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

Ukraine’s big debt to foreign investors in wind and solar energy threatens future foreign investment in other areas, the Ambassadors of 11 OECD countries warned Prime Minister Shmyhal in a letter Friday. Saying they represents companies and banks that invested more than €2 billion in renewables in Ukraine, the Ambassadors said the government now is “in breach” of the “voluntary” agreement reached last July with producers.

“To attract investors, and indeed to keep existing investors, Ukraine needs a stable and predictable business climate that builds confidence in Ukraine as an attractive investment destination,” reads the one-page letter signed by the Ambassadors of Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and Turkey. “The extent to which Ukraine honors its commitments…will be noted by investors far beyond the renewable energy sector.”

With the overdue electricity bill estimated at $800 million, the Ambassadors said the government has not yet moved to use budget money to pay for 20% of the bill and to pay the rest through hryvnia bonds. Under pressure from bankers, about 50 renewable producers have sued to get their money from the Guaranteed Buyer State Enterprise, reports Censor.Net. On Nov. 4, the week after the local elections, the Rada approved on first reading a bill that would give state guarantees to Ukrenergo to allow it sell bonds.

Worldwide, production of electricity from renewable sources is to grow by 7% this year and capacity is to grow by 10% next year, International Energy Agency reports in its new forecast, “Renewables 2020.” “Renewable energy will become the largest source of electricity generation in the world in 2025, ending the dominance of coal as the main source of electricity generation for five decades,” says Fatih Birol, the Turkish economist who is executive director of the Agency.

In Ukraine, a surge of renewable projects pushed production of electricity from solar, wind, biomass up by 120% through August yoy, to 7.7 gigawatts, reports the Energy Ministry. Renewables share of national energy production increased to 8.1%, from 3.4% one year earlier. Electricity from nuclear power plants was unchanged – 53%. But electricity from coal-fired plans dropped to 32.4%, from 37% one year earlier.

Despite the overdue power bill and cuts in solar rates of 10-15%, new solar projects continue to be commissioned across Ukraine:

In Kyiv, DTEK Grids has connected its first industrial size solar plant atop an apartment building. Built by the Avrora Term Company the array atop a building in Troieshchyna has 1,200 solar panels and output of 330kW. Ivan Geliukh, DTEK Grids CEO, says that this year the company is connecting 75 industrial solar power plants for a total capacity of 566 MW.

In Izmail, on the Danube, UDP Renewables puts into operation this month two stages of Gudzovka-Solar, a €21 million, 24.4 MW investment. Mykola Tymoshchuk, CEO of UFuture, investor in UDP, says: “Despite the turbulent period in the industry and in the world at large, UFuture is systematically implementing its strategic plans and investments in Ukraine’s renewable energy.”

In Zhytomyr region, Naftogaz starts producing and selling electricity this month from its new 33.3 MW plant at Chudniv. Implemented by Naftogaz-Energoservice, the project is to be followed by more solar stations next year, says Serhiy Pereloma, first deputy board chairman of Naftogaz.

In Sumy region, Germany’s Nord Areal Energy GmbH has started construction of a 6 MW solar plant in Trostyanets. About 100km to the northwest in Bilopillya, the same German company plans to build a major wind farm, reports Panorama, a Sumy region news site.

Germany is offering to €20 million to a new, international fund to convert six single industry Ukrainian coal mining towns to new uses, Peter Altmaier, Germany’s minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, said last month after talks last month with Olha Buslavets, Ukraine’s minister for Energy and Environmental Protection. Choosing one town in the West and another in the East, planners believe Velykomostivska in Lviv has potential as a tourism center and a Donetsk mine known as “5/6” has potential as a technological cluster.

Ukraine’s economy rebounded in the third quarter, increasing by 8.5% compared to the disastrous second quarter, reports the State Statistics Service. In the second quarter, the economy plunged 11.4%, compared to the same period in 2019. But in July-August-September, the economy was down only 3.5% compared to the same period in 2019. Illustrating the vagaries of forecasts, the National Bank of Ukraine predicted last month that the economy was down by 6.2% in the third quarter.

Adoption of a transparently regulated taxi market in Ukraine would bring the business out of the shadows, allowing companies to help drivers buy or lease better cars, Georgy Sokolyansky, Uber’s development director for Central and Eastern Europe told an online discussion on the taxi market yesterday. Estimating that 90-95% of drivers are in the ‘shadows,’ he said legalization would ultimately create “100,000 jobs in Ukraine.”

Ukraine says Iran is dragging its feet on investigating the downing of the UIA passenger jet last January by not sharing information and not responding to requests for cooperation., Deputy Prosecutor General Gyunduz Mamedov tells Reuters. Iran has also rejected Kyiv’s calls for life sentences for the Revolutionary Guards officers responsible for shooting down the plane, killing 176 people. In advance of talks on Dec. 3, a governing panel at the United Nations’ aviation agency urges Iran to speed up its investigation.

About $110 million will be invested next year in 10 regional airports, largely for runway and navigational improvements, according to Kirill Khomyakov, head of Ukrinfraproekt, the State Agency for Infrastructure Projects. According to an Agency map posted by the Center for Transportation Strategies, the airports are: Kherson, Cherkassy, ​​Rivne, Vinnitsa, Uzhgorod, Ivano-Frankovsk, Chernivtsi, Poltava, Odessa and Dnipro. During the recent local election campaign, President Zelenskiy also promised to rebuild the runway at Sumy’s airport.

Editor’s Note:  For sophisticates who smirk at the sound of ‘Sumy Airport,’ faithful UBN reader Greg Perelman emails me a blast from Ukraine’s aviation past: the summer 1976 schedule for flights to seven cities from Zvenihorodka, Cherkasy region. “The prices were similar to the cost of bus tickets to the same destinations,” recalls Greg, now a Yale MBA living in the San Francisco Bay area. “I believe all of them were on An-2s – the same plane I flew from Korsun to Zhuliany in late ‘60s.” The round, rugged An-2 biplane was nicknamed the ‘kukuruznik’ — corn cob. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, September 3

Russian Gas Transit Volumes Dwindle...Greece, Romania, Turkey: New Gas Sources for Ukraine...Turkey, Ukraine Create Alliance For Defense Production...Glencore Buys Sunflower Oil Tank Farm and Terminal in Mykolaiv...Hot Weather Makes the Case for Irrigation in Kherson and Odesa...
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 2

Ryanair Cuts Most Flights Between EU and Ukraine...PM Sees 50% Jump in Ukraine Corona Cases...Antonov-Turkey Talks on JV for Cargo Jet...Pro-Russia MP’s Want Court to Turn Back the Clock...Honcharuk: Washington Think Tanker - Volker: Kyiv Train Engineer...
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Move:

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

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

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

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Friday, August 28

Belarus Economic Drop Could Hit Ukraine...US Cybersecurity Expert En Route Ukraine Arrested as Spy for Russia...After 100 Days, Saakashvili Quits Reform Council to Go Home to Georgia...Ze Promises Peace by Christmas...Facing Tonight’s Ban on Foreign Travelers, UIA Cuts Flights...
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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