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Wednesday, February 17

Berlin-Biden Talks on Nord Stream 2…Cold Snap Exposes Ramshackle Power System…Aslund: Don’t Hold Your Breath for IMF Deal…China’s DiDi Taxis Coming…Kyiv Sikorsky Airport to Expand: Bigger Planes = Fewer Planes
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, January 27

IFC Takes Key Step for Privatizing Ukrgasbank…Ukraine Wants to Stretch Out IMF Program…In a World Hungry for Yields, MinFin Lowers Bond Yields…Western Temptresses: German and Polish Railroads Beckon Workers from UZ
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, December 29

Foreign Debt Payments to Stay High in 2021…Chinese Freight Trains Now Come to Kyiv Weekly…UZ Wants to Lease Out Ukraine’s Busiest Rail Stations: Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro…Fight Over Lithium…Bukovel Packed
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 faces a second year of high foreign debt payments in 2021– $16.1 billion. This is almost double the payments expected for 2022 – $8.6 billion – and $8.9 billion in 2023, the Finance Ministry reported on Facebook. In 2020, through November, Ukraine has paid $16.9 billion for public debt principal and interest. For 2021, Ukraine will have to pay $10.9 billion domestic debt principal and interest. The country will have to pay $5.2 billion in foreign debt principal and interest

AVELLUM law firm is emerging as Ukraine’s leading advisor on Eurobond issuances, advising on $1.2 billion worth of bonds in the second half of 2020. They were: Kernel’s $300 million offering of 2027 notes at 6.75%; the Finance Ministry’s issuance of $600 million Eurobond at 6.20%, the lowest in Ukraine’s history; and Ukreximbank’s cash tender offer of $316 million.

Since freight service started in June 2020, 22 Chinese container trains have arrived at Kyiv-Liski Left Bank station, reports Ukrzaliznytsia. The trains take about two weeks to travel 9,000 km from China to here. UZ is working with Ukrainian exporters to fill trains returning to China. One month ago, UZ and DHL Global Forwarding signed an agreement to develop rail freight between China and Europe, the railroad reports.

Ukrzaliznytsia is forcing the first private freight operator on UZ tracks to charge haulage tariffs seven times those of the state railroad, reported RBK Ukraina. Earlier this month, UZ signed the first contract for private locomotives on public tracks with Lviv’s Ukrainian Locomotive Building Company. “Given the tariffs set for private traders, the pilot project could fail,” writes RBK. With private freight trains running in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, admission of private freight trains on UZ tracks is a Ukrainian obligation under the EU Association Agreement.

To take tractor-trailer trucks off the roads, Ukrzaliznytsia plans to offer shippers the option of sending semi-trailers to the EU on flatbed wagons, Volodymyr Zhmak, the railroad’s CEO, tells Mintrans news site. A semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle and without the tractor. By hauling semi-trailers across borders, Zhmak said the railroad would cut the wear and tear on roads, reduce lines at border posts, and ease the problem of Poland restricting permits for Ukrainian truckers.

Five or six “large domestic and foreign investors are ready to participate” in leasing some of Ukraine’s busiest rail stations, Alexander Pertsovsky, head of UZ’s ‘Passenger Company,’ tells Mintrans. After holding conference calls with investors, UZ is preparing concession agreements, with the advice of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. There are seven stations that are to be leased in concession: the main passenger stations of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro, and Chop, Khmelnytsky, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia. UZ predicts it will make $2 million a year from concession payments. At smaller stations, rental spaces for ATMs, snack bars and shops are to be leased through ProZorro.Sales, he said.

Thefts of parts from private company wagons in UZ workshops has become so bad that Lemtrans has started painting its removable parts a signature lemon yellow, reported Rail.Insider. Lemtrans, the owner of the largest private fleet of freight wagons in Ukraine, also uses GPS technology to track cars. Through August, thieves hit their wagons more than 400 times. Quadro Center, another major shipper, said thieves have stolen parts from one quarter of the company’s fleet since 2019. Last month alone, UZ reported 1,156 cases of thefts of parts from freight wagons.

VR Capital, the London-based emerging markets hedge fund, is pursuing litigation against Ukrzaliznytsia over a $300 million package of defaulted loans that VR acquired two years ago at auction from Russian lender Prominvestbank, reports Reorg Research, a London financial intelligence provider. The loans had an initial principal of $153 million, but since they matured in 2015 and 2016, the accumulated fees, penalties and interest have risen to an almost equal amount. Reporter Jack Laurenson wrote that UZ has entered into talks with VR and recognizes that VR now holds the debt.

In the first quarter of 2021, DTEK Energy will launch Ukraine’s first industrial-scale energy storage system project, DTEK CEO Maksym Timchenko announced last week. US company Honeywell is building with DTEK a 1 MW energy storage system based on lithium-ion batteries, near DTEK’s Zaporizhia Power Plant. Energy storage is seen as a key to balancing the peaks and low of solar power.

With demand high for lithium for batteries, Gosgeonadr, the state Geology Service, is trying to conduct a public, online auction of two deposits – a 40-hectare site in Donetsk region and a 300-hectare site in Kirovohrad region. “However, there are attempts through the courts to disrupt open electronic bidding,” Roman Opimakh, head of Gosgeonadr, writes on Facebook. “This is in order not to pay a fair price set by open competitive bidding.” Noting that the Donetsk site may have 13.5 million tons of lithium ore, he writes: “There is a significant demand for the ‘metals of the future’ in the world market – and this includes lithium.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday charged Oleksandr Tupytsky, chairman of the Constitutional Court, with bribing a witness to make him give false testimony. The charge comes one week after Radio Svoboda posted audiotapes in which Tupytsky tried to dissuade a Donetsk businessman from testifying against another controversial judge, Viktor Tatkov.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved yesterday seven production-sharing agreements with private and state companies for the production of oil and gas. Only one foreign company is involved – Houston-based Aspect Energy, a business in partnership with Sigma Bleyzer. A Canadian company, Vermilion Energy, dropped out in November, citing low oil and gas prices. Companies have until January 7 2021 to sign their agreements.

Ukraine’s biggest ski resort Bukovel is fully booked through the New Year’s holidays, Reuters reports from the Carpathians. With EU skis closed or inaccessible to Ukrainian tourists, Bukovel is jammed. The resort, which covers five mountains, usually draws 2 million visitors in the winter. Unlike some other European countries, Ukraine has not imposed any restrictions on travel within the country.

Editor’s Note: It’s Bukovel in a nutshell. If readers wonder why retail sales are up, foreign reserves are up, foreign trade is almost balanced, and the hryvnia is strong, the answer can be seen on the crowded ski slopes of Bukovel. Cooped up because of corona, Ukrainians have a hard time traveling outside the country this winter. So, money that would be spent in the Alps or the Dolomites is rolling through the Carpathians. One legacy of Covid may be more international standard hotels, roads and airports for Ukrainians who want to vacation at home. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, December 9

Food Exports Down, Earnings  Up…To Raise Debt, Gov’t Raises Bond Yields Above 10%…Foreign Tourists to Kyiv Down 85%…UIA Lays Off Pilots, Asks for Help
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 snow forecast for much of Ukraine tomorrow, 99% of the 2021 harvest is inreported the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Agriculture. Harvested from 24 million hectares, an expanse the size of Britain, Ukraine’s harvest is expected to be well below last year’s bumper crop. Due to drought, the corn crop could be down by 25% and the sugar beet crop down by 30%.

Measured in volume, grain exports are down by 14% — to 20 million tons  — since the marketing year started July 1. Corn exports are down 26% yoy, to 6 million tons. Wheat exports are down 11.5%, to 12 million tons. By June 2021, the government predicted that Ukraine’s grain exports could be down 17% over last year’s record exports of 57 million tons.

World prices are boosting Ukraine’s earnings from the export of food, the nation’s biggest foreign currency earner. World food prices rose in October and November, hitting their highest levels in six years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The FAO said that November world food prices are 6% higher than one year earlier. One major Ukrainian export, vegetable oil, jumped 14.5% in November alone, hitting the highest price since March 2014. Cereal prices are up 20% compared to one year ago. Export prices for Ukrainian corn are up 36% yoy.

Capital investment in farming dropped by 43% during the first three quarters, to just below $1 billion, reported the Institute of Agrarian Economics. Citing State Statistics Data, the Institute notes the investment collapse in farming came as overall capital investment in Ukraine fell by 35% yoy, to just under $10 billion for the January-September period.

The Finance Ministry raised all its hryvnia bond yields above 10% yesterday and succeeded in selling six times more paper than one week earlier. At yesterday’s auction, hryvnia bond yields went up by 11 basis points to 30 basis points, according to a Finance Ministry post on Facebook. To draw demand the Ministry also offered a full range of six hryvnia bonds — 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 4 years and 5 years.

Of the $560 million raised, about one third was from the sale of 1-year dollar bonds, which carried an average weighted yield of 3.79%. By contrast, 1-year hryvnia bonds carried a yield of 11.22% With the government short of money to cover the budget deficit, investors expect large bond sales — domestically and abroad.

ICU wrote of last week’s auction: “Foreigners are monitoring the market and watching the trend in rate increases, waiting for the optimal time to make new investments. That could be when the increase in rates stops and the hryvnia exchange rate appears to bottom out. We can expect foreigners to again purchase new issues, on the background of increase in the appetite of portfolio investors to EM assets.”

The Central Bank is expected to keep Ukraine’s prime rate at the historically low level of 6% at Thursday’s policy meeting. In a Reuters poll of 15 analysts, 14 predicted that the National Bank of Ukraine will keep the rate at 6%, the level attained last June. Since then, Ukraine’s inflation has fallen, hitting 2.6% yoy in October. The analysts predicted that more government spending and a high minimum wage will push up Ukraine’s to 4.2% at the end of this year, and to 6.1% at the end of next year.

Betting on the growth of e-commerce, Ukrposhta plans to start building a 600,000 square meters of mail and package sorting centers next year. Largely funded with EBRD and European Investment Bank loans totalling 93 million euros, the state post office plans to build 62 depots and eight 8 sorting hubs, in: Kyiv (on the left and right banks), in Lviv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Khmelnitskiy, Odesa and Pokrovsk, the rail hub city in Donetsk region. The first tenders will go out in coming days, Igor Suhodubovsky, head of construction for Ukrposhta, told a logistics conference yesterday.

Foreign tourists visiting Kyiv this year fell to 300,000 — 15% of the 2 million who visited last year. With national tourists not filling the gap, Kyiv’s tourism industry — hotel, restaurants, nightclubs and tour operators — lost $1 billion this year, estimated Maryna Radova,  head of Tourism and Promotion of the Kyiv City Administration. Similarly, the hotel tourism tax revenues has fallen almost in half, to $1.2 million, she told a forum at Ukrinform, “Restoration of the Tourism Sector in Kyiv Amid a Pandemic.”

Wizz Air restores this month many flights to the EU from Kyiv Sikorsly, Kharkiv and Lviv, reports the Hungary-based low-cost carrier. If a flight is cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions, Wizz Air says it will refund 125% of the paid fare. In coming days, these flights resume: from Kyiv to Copenhagen, Pardubice, Billun, Vienna, Krakow, Lisbon, Hamburg, Budapest, Naples, Poznan, Bratislava, Katowice; from Lviv to Berlin, Szczecin, Bratislava, Pardubice, Vilniusl; and from Kharkiv to Krakow, Dortmund, Vienna, Gdansk and Wroclaw.

Preparing to lay off 150 pilots, UIA appealed to President Zelenskiy yesterday,asking for a low interest loan and relief on debts owed to Ukraine’s air traffic control agency and to Boryspil Aiport, UIA’s hub. “UIA, like other air carriers of Ukraine, require immediate measures of state support, which will allow them to survive until the resumption of demand and opportunities for international air transportation,” the airline’s executives wrote in a letter to Zelenskiy. UIA said its passenger traffic is running at 85% of 2019 levels and that it already has laid off 1,000 employees. Ukraine’s national flag carrier, plans to restore much of its route network in April, aiming to carry in 2021 64% of the passengers it carried in 2019.

Since April, UIA has processed 60% of demands for ticket returns, refunding $22 million, the airline reports. Another 56,000 requests await processing. As part of personnel cuts at UIA, the airline’s telephone information center has been closed.

UIA’s sister airline, Windrose Airlines continues its expansion into the Balkans, starting flights this week from Kyiv Boryspil to Belgrade, Serbia, and from Boryspil to Skopje, North Macedonia. In recent weeks, Windrose started flights from Boryspil to: Ljubljana, Slovenia; to Zagreb, Croatia; and to Podgorica, Montenegro. Windrose uses its newly expanded fleet of commuter planes —  Embraer 145s and ATR 72-600s.

Editor’s Note: The corn harvest is in. Publicly traded IMC recorded a 4% drop in its yield, to 9.3 tons per hectare. That is still 77% above Ukraine’s national average yield. As a reporter, I have toured corporate farms in Kansas, USA; Alberta, Canada; Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil; Cordoba, Argentina; and New South Wales, Australia. In those three continents, there are common threads. Farming is a business. People who work on corporate farms generally enjoy a higher standard of living than those who do not.  In Massachusetts, my sister has cows, goats and chickens. But, they are not a major source of income. They are largely to preserve a pastoral landscape and to prevent the encroachment of the New England forest. In Ukraine, there always will be room for family farms. But a measured, rational creation of a real farm land market would inject billions of dollars into the countryside. By the end of this decade, grain harvests — and exports — could double. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Friday, December 4

Dnipro to Once Again Become the Mississippi of Ukraine…China Leads List of Partners for Free Trade Talks…Dragon Buys Site for Industrial Park Near Lviv…November Weekend Shopping Ban Cost Malls $250 million 
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

After 12 years of discussion, the Rada yesterday passed a river development bill designed to triple cargo carried on the Dnipro to 30 million tons by 2025. Ships will pass free through river’s six locks. To modernize the aging river gates, an ‘Inland Waterways Fund’ will be created, funded largely by excise taxes on fuel. During the late Soviet era, 60 million tons of cargo moved annually on the Dnipro.

A revitalised working river will generate an extra $500 million in economic activity, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krikliy said on his Telegram account. He added that for each 1 million tons of cargo carried on the river, Ukraine can save $35 million in road repairs.

“All over the world, river transportation is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way of delivering goods,” Artem Kovalev, Rada member and chief author of the law, wrote on Facebook. “Ukraine has a huge potential for the development of water transport, but now less than 1% of all goods are transported by the river (in the EU it is 7%). At the same time, the Danube and Dnipro are included in five largest rivers in Europe.”

Renewal of the Dnipro is expected to revive two Soviet era economic activities: shipbuilding and river cruise tourism. Due to global warming, the Dnipro’s ice-free shipping season seems to be expanding — to nine months. President Zelenskiy, a promoter of the bill, said he would sign the legislation soon. 

Ukraine wants to start free trade talks next year with a host of countries, led by its largest trading partner, China, Taras Kachka, Ukraine’s Trade Representative, told Evropeiska Pravda. “Currently, the access of our products to the Chinese market is subject to higher duties than Chinese products to us,” he said, referring to a trade relationship that totalled $9.4 through August. 

Ukraine would like to reopen and liberalise the UK-Ukraine agreement that was signed two months ago in London, a rushed deal designed to beat the December 31 Brexit deadline. Also on the list are countries with major trade deficits with Ukraine due to food exports: Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco and Vietnam. The Ukraine-Israel free trade agreement enters into effect on Jan. 1.

Even without a UK-Ukraine trade pact renegotiation, Ukrainian food exporters are showing “great interest” in the expanded duty-free access to the British market, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba told Interfax-Ukraine after a bilateral briefing on trade opportunities. Furniture manufacturers have gone on two trade missions to Britain recently, he said. He added: “ Even Ukrainian manufacturers of Christmas tree decorations are now interested in the British market.”

Helped by cheaper energy import prices, Ukraine’s trade deficit in goods is running at half the level of last year, reported the State Customs Service. Through November, the trade deficit was $3.93 billion, down from $8.15 billion recorded during the first 10 months of last year. Year over year, exports were down 3.5%, while imports were down 10.8%.

Dragon Capital has acquired Lviv Industrial Park located on a 23.5-hectare land plot on the M10 highway, 60 km east of the Polish border. Five years ago, CTP, the largest developer and operator of warehouses and industrial parks in Central and Eastern Europe, bought the site — the Czech company’s first foray into the former Soviet Union. For Dragon, the Lviv site complements their 49-hectare site on the Kyiv-Zhytomyr highway where an industrial park is in the planning stages. “We are ready to start construction of new Class A facilities in our industrial parks in the coming years,” says Dragon CEO Tomas Fiala.

The ban on shopping during three weekends in November cost Ukrainian shopping malls about $250 million, the Ukrainian Council of Shopping Centers told Interfax-Ukraine. The 30-40% drop in weekend sales was partially offset by 10-20% increases on Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Epicenter, one of the nation’s largest retailers, lost 750,000 weekend visits and $35 million in weekend sales, says Vladimir Goncharov, Epicenter’s director of retail trade. The drop in sales will ripple through the economy effecting 5,000 suppliers, largely Ukrainian, and sales tax payments.

“Business without Barriers” is a movement promoted by First Lady Olena Zelenska to reduce the physical and psychological barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in the work force and society at large. A declaration of support was signed this week by representatives of: Ukrposhta, Oschadbank, Ukrzaliznytsia, Auchan, 1+1 Media, DTEK, Socar, work.ua, ATB, and Danone. Ukrzaliznytsia said it is making stations, platforms and trains easier for travellers in wheelchairs, the elderly and parents with small children.

DTEK says that almost 3,000 of its 70,000 employees have disabilities, “We are actively introducing the best services for our clients so that our services are as accessible as possible,” says DTEK CEO Maxim Timchenko. Yesterday, DTEK, the largest private investor in Ukraine’s energy sector, became Ukraine’s first company to join ‘The Valuable 500,’ an international movement dedicated to improving the integration of employees and clients with disabilities.

Editor’s Note:  Often shrouded in poetry and romance, the Dnipro also is a working river — Ukraine’s Mississippi. To the envy of Russia, the Mississippi and the Dnipro flow south carrying produce from vast agricultural lands to world markets, through the Gulf of Mexico and the Black Sea. By contrast, Russia’s rivers flow north, generally emptying into the Arctic. The Volga flows into the Caspian — also not very useful. In Ukraine, river infrastructure experts — from the Dutch to the US Army Corps of Engineers — have been standing by for the last decade, waiting for Kyiv to pass the bill that the Rada passed yesterday. A new decade may dawn as Ukrainians rediscover what the Vikings knew 1,000 years ago — the economic utility of the mighty Dnipro. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, December 3

Weekend Shopping Ban Lifted…Ukraine to go to Eurobond Market for $1 billion…FDI Drops Sharply...Ship Cargo Holds Steady
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

Ukrainians can look forward to a normal shopping this weekend and, probably through Friday December 25, Catholic Christmas. Prime Minister Shmygal said November’s weekend shopping bans had cut the spread of the coronavirus.

Yesterday morning, 13,141 new cases were announced, down from a daily average of 16,500 late last week. However, in Kyiv Mayor Klitschko said yesterday that a record 1,735 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed. Eight months after the first cases were confirmed in Ukraine, “about 3% of Ukraine’s population of Ukraine have already had COVID-19,” Deputy Health Minister Iryna Mykychak tells Telegraf media outlet.

With a big budget funding gap looming, Ukraine may tap the international Eurobond market for up $1 billion in short term financing, Prime Minister Shmygal told the  Korrespondent news site. He asserts the IMF will announce the date of its review mission in coming days. This would indicate that the $5 billion Stand By Agreement signed six months ago is back on track. Shmygal also said the government could sell $2 billion worth of Hryvnia bonds in coming weeks. On Tuesday, the government sold $93 million worth of Hryvnia bonds.

Timothy Ash writes from London: “Surprised it took them so long given the strength of global beta which has seen Ukraine’s borrowing costs in the Eurobond market crash 200bps lower over the past month or so. The appetite for yield is so strong post US elections that people are willing to look beyond challenges in individual country stories – and in Ukraine’s case — challenges to the anti corruption agenda, which is stalling IMF lending…Markets may not be so forgiving in 2021, so they really need to use the window being provided by cheap global financing conditions to crack on with those much needed reforms. Not entirely sure why you would only do a six month issue – market feels open to 5Y or 10y deal, and not sure that six months down the line pricing will be much cheaper.”

Through October, Ukraine has attracted $221 million in new direct foreign investment — 5% of the $4.5 billion attracted during the first 10 months of last year, the National Bank of Ukraine reported yesterday. Similarly, reinvestment by foreigners also fell sharply during the same period: to $639 million, from $2.9 billion this time last year. The Central Bank reported that Foreign loans also plummeted to $219 million, from $640 million last year. Analysts put the blame on the coronavirus recession and on the stalling of Ukraine’s movement to clean up the judiciary and implement free market changes.

Corporate raiding — stealing companies through forgeries or force — is up slightly this year compared to last year, reports Ukrinform, citing data from Opendatabot, an  online registry. Through October, 751 corporate raids were recorded in Ukraine, almost the same number as for all of last year. Three quarters were attempted through forged documents. This year 45% of cases go to court.

Ukrzaliznytsia plans to spend almost $1 billion next year on repairing locomotives, cars, and track — almost three times the money spent this year. As posted on the state railroad’s site, financing would be: 55% from UZ’s funds; 31% from bond sales; and 14% from the state budget.  According to Vladimir Zhmak, UZ’s new CEO, the railroad will probably end this year with a $500 million loss, largely due to lost passenger ticket sales. Last year, the railroad recorded a profit of $110 million.

Despite the corona recession, cargo handled by Ukraine’s seaports is up by 1% yoy. Through November, the ports handled 146 million tons. Confirming Ukraine’s reliance on exports of raw materials, grain and ore exports accounted for 58% of all cargo moving through the ports.

Kyiv’s autumn (September-November) was the warmest since local record keeping started in 1881, reports Ukrinform. “The calendar autumn is over but the meteorological winter has not come yet,” reports the Borys Sreznevskyi from the  Central Geophysical Observatory which is  located in southern Kyiv. “It will begin when the average daily air temperature starts steadily dropping below 0 °C.” Without any sharp freeze forecast, authorities have extended the Dnipro River shipping season for an unprecedented extra month, to Dec. 31.

Editor’s Note:  Phew, that was a close call! National Anti-Corruption Bureau detectives were all set yesterday to arrest Oleg Tatarov, deputy chief of presidential staff, on bribery charges, when President Zelenskiy’s hand-picked Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova swooped in and took four prosecutors off the case. That is the version presented last night by censor.net, the Kyiv Post and other news sites around town. Gosh, I hope that no one in the IMF office in Kyiv reads Ukrainian or English. With best regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, November 12

Weekend Quarantine Starts Tomorrow Night at Midnight...Protests Come from Restaurateurs and Shop Owners...Biden Victory Lowers Ukraine Risk in the Eurobond Market
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

Starting at midnight tomorrow night, Ukraine embarks on the first of three ‘weekend lockdowns’ – partial shutdowns where restaurants, shopping centers and fitness centers will be closed through Sunday nights. The goal is to break chain of transmission of coronavirus without a fulltime ‘hard’ lockdown and to do it before the Christmas shopping season starts in December. During these nationwide lockdowns, food stores, pharmacies, gas stations and banks will remain open. Mass transit will carry only seated passengers.

With 10 of Ukraine’s 24 regions reporting 70% or higher occupancy rates in their Covid wards, Prime Minister Shmyhal warned yesterday at a televised government meeting: “Given the current situation, by Dec. 10-15, if nothing is done, there will be no places in hospitals even in the corridors.” Earlier, he warned that Ukraine’s infection rate could double from the current level of 10,000 new cases a day  to 20,000 by the end of December.

Although the Health Ministry is increasing Ukraine’s Covid hospital beds by 50%, to 80,000, the Prime Minister warned last week: “We have arrived at the point of no return and are close to catastrophe.” He told the Rada:The situation is critical not only in Ukraine, but in the whole world. England, France, Austria, Germany, Spain are returning severe quarantine restrictions.”

Denmark has donated 50 ventilators to Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry reported Tuesday. DTEK and the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation have donated 62 ventilators since the start of the pandemic.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said yesterday: “We would like to do a complete lockdown for three weeks, but our economy won’t survive.” To ease economic pain, Prime Minister Shmyhal promised to give government aid to workers impacted by the partial shutdown. But the weekend quarantine plan drew a big protest in front of his office yesterday.

“Our main message is: ‘Let people work,’” Olena Obukhovska, spokesman for the Arricano shopping mall group, told Interfax-Ukraine. Drawing 300 people, the protest was supported by the Ukrainian Restaurant Association, the Association of Retailers of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Council of Shopping Centers. Signs read: “Weekend Quarantine Means Millions of People Without Work,” “My Work is my Life,” and “Without Business, There is No Economy.”

Andriy Piontkovksy, founder of the Cherry Berry chain of candies and natural drinks shops, wrote on Facebook that half of his turnover takes place in shopping centers on weekends. He asked: “How can we reduce the rent and back-office wages by 50% in proportion to the 50% shortfall?”

Alexander Savilov, co-owner of the Salateira restaurant chain, wrote on Facebook that many entrepreneurs say a short, hard lockdown would be more effective. He said: “Many are in favor of a complete lockdown. Some owners of large service businesses say that such a measure can allow for high-quality negotiations with banks.”

Lviv, a city with a big tourism economy, is preparing a lawsuit against the weekend lockdown decision, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi wrote last night on Facebook. “Lockdown for the weekend is absurd,” said Sadovyi, who faces a second round of voting in a mayoral runoff on Nov. 22. Despite the weekend lockdowns, mayoral votes are expected to be held on Nov. 15 and 22.

The most recent political notables testing positive for coronavirus are: Dmytro Razumkov, speaker of the Rada, and Oleksiy Reznikov, deputy Prime Minister and minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories. From Germany, a political ally of Kharkiv Mayor Henndiy Kernes posted a photo of the 61-year-old Covid sufferer in a Berlin hospital bed — breathing tubes up his nose and a dazed look on his face. In Kyiv, Olena Zelenska, wife of the President, reported Tuesday: “On the President’s health: everything is fine. He feels well. He has isolated, but continues to work.”

On President-elect Joe Biden, Serhiy Sydorenko writes in an analysis in Evropeiska Pravda:  “Implementation of reforms in Ukraine is going to be the main indicator on which the US would premise building relations with Ukraine. This was stated in Biden’s statements, it was a major requirement by American diplomacy, and, finally, this was what Biden himself made a priority in the last years in office as VP…Biden’s presidency is very good news for the reform-minded political players in Ukraine, especially those focusing on anti-corruption. And Washington will respond firmly to attempts of undermining anti-corruption infrastructure in Ukraine.”

With Joe Biden’s political emergence, perceived Ukraine risk has dropped and yields are down on Ukraine’s benchmark Eurobonds. Since Oct. 12, yields on the bond maturing in 2025 have dropped 90 basis points, to 6.04%. Yields on the 2032 bond have dropped 65 basis points, to 7.06%

Ukreximbank, the nation’s third largest bank, is repurchasing its Eurobonds maturing in 2022 and 2025 for a total of $300 million. The state-owned bank reports that the redemption price of bonds maturing in 2025 was 104.5% of face value and of bonds maturing in 2022 was10 3.75%. Goldman Sachs International was the dealer-manager of the debt reduction exercise. Eugene Metzger, the new board chairman of Ukreximbank said: “The market situation contributed to the successful completion of the book of applications for redemption.”

Timothy Ash writes from London: “With Ukrainian Eurobonds ignoring the local constitutional crisis and taking their lead from global beta, I would be amazed if the Ministry of Finance does not tap the Eurobond market very soon…It must be mega tempting to come to market – and especially as it’s hard to see any more IMF money this year.”

On the hryvnia bond market, the Finance Ministry raised rates and quadrupled government bond sales Tuesday, compared to the week prior. The Finance Ministry reports that it raised the equivalent of $280 million, largely on the strength of 3-month hryvnia bonds which went for 9%, up from 7.5% last month. The auction sold $10 million worth of 1-year bonds at 10.42%, virtually the same rate as two weeks ago. The Ministry rejected as too high all bids for its 2-year bonds. For dollar denominated bonds, the ministry sold a total of $82.3 million to 35 bidders with a weighted average yield of 3.62%.

Central bank governor Kyrylo Shevchenko is in Washington this week, trying to revive the stalled IMF deal. Against that background, Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko writes: “A significant increase of interest rates for 3-month bonds helped to raise more auction receipts. However, the limited number of bidders for these bonds implies that most of the hryvnia receipts at the auction are still being generated by state-owned banks.”

Editor’s Note: Ukraine’s government hopes to avoid the economic pain of a full bore ‘hard’ lockdown of the type we endured last Spring. Hopefully, we will not get the worst of all outcomes: economic pain in November, and then, a surge of coronavirus in December, during the shopping and socializing season. Either way, tradition will intervene forcefully and provide the two-week lockdown everyone loves. From late December to mid-January  Ukraine celebrates two New Years and, now, three Christmases. 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