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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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Thursday, August 27 – Ukraine shuts its borders to foreign travelers for one month

Borders Close Tomorrow Night to Incoming Foreigners…Ukrainian Railways gets new CEO….MinFin Keeps Rates Low….More Loan Money for Small Biz….Zelenskiy Pledges help for Yuzhmash….Retail Up...Work Starts News Month on Dnipro Airport...
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

Ukraine shuts its borders to foreign travelers for one month, starting tomorrow night at midnight. The major exceptions are: foreigners with Ukraine residence permits, diplomats, travelers in transit, students enrolling in universities, truck drivers and airline crews. The ban is designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Shmyhal said yesterday after the weekly Cabinet of Ministers meeting. Starting Tuesday, the government bans discos, nightclubs and concerts in ‘green’ zones.

Ukraine’s Health Ministry has expanded its list of ‘red zone’ coronavirus countries to 65, adding Albania and Montenegro. Red zone countries have a 14-day infection rate higher than Ukraine’s level of 55/100,000 population. Travelers arriving from a red zone country must have full health insurance and undergo self-isolation until they test negative for the virus. The bilingual list can be found here.

With Ukraine’s schools scheduled to open on Tuesday, President Zelenskiy warned families to take precautions, noting that his 7-year-old son, Kyrylo, was hospitalized last month for coronavirus complications, along with his mother, Olena Zelenska. “No one is afraid of it until it reaches your family,” the president said. “I will speak plainly — this coronavirus is a real plague. There is no other word for it. My wife was affected, and so was my son.”

Law enforcement authorities in Chernivtsi, one of the country’s hardest hit red zones, decide to suspend the operation public transport, according to Ukrinform citing Deputy Mayor of Chernivtsi Dmytro. “Despite the decision taken by the city council, the police stopped and suspended public transport in Chernivtsi.”

Adamant Capital writes: Although Ukraine is currently displaying the highest amount of new cases on record, it seems unlikely that restrictions similar to those that have been introduced at the start of the pandemic are going to be reinstalled any time soon…the 2Q20 real GDP figure (-11.4% YoY) has demonstrated quite clearly the cost of an even relatively light lockdown and suggests that repeating the same scenario may be politically unaffordable unless the health crisis becomes dire.”

Volodymyr Zhmak will be the new CEO of Ukrainian Railways, the nation’s largest employer and a major economic player, the Cabinet of Ministers announced yesterday. Zhmak was previously a member of the Supervisory Board of the Boryspil Airport and has served as Deputy Chairman of the Odessa Regional State Administration. He also worked as an advisor to the president of Kyivstar, the Ukrainian mobile telephone company.

Passenger transport volume was down 41% yoy in July, reports ICU. In cities, transport was at 70-80% of last year’s levels. But rail was 38% of 2019 levels and air was only 18% of July 2019.

Retail turnover was up 8.5% yoy in July. However, wholesale trade fell by 6% yoy after the surge by 12% yoy in June, according to ICU.

Alfa-Bank Ukraine writes: “Retail trade provides a strong positive surprise in July. The sector accelerated to a growth of 8.5% y-o-y, already close to its pre-COVID trajectory. For comparison, we expected acceleration only to 3-4%…most of the unexpected boost was concentrated in the City of Kyiv, while many other regions indeed experienced less striking recovery in July…many residents of the capital stayed at home instead of spending abroad…This speculation is also supported by the fact that Odesa and Mykolaiv regions…were also the ones which experienced significant retail trade acceleration in July.”

The Finance Ministry placed UAH 816 million ($29.8 million) in 3-month local currency bonds at 7% and $31 million in 12-month hard currency bonds at 3.5%.

Concorde Capital’s Evgeniya Akhtyrko writes of Tuesday’s weekly auction: “The local bond market is in its traditional summer vacation lethargy. However, there is no guarantee that the next month will bring much of a revival to the market. The government is likely to have difficulty in its attempts to increase UAH auction receipts while keeping interest rates at the current level, as most market players apparently find them too low.

Prime Minister Denis Shmygal pledges $328 million more for Ukraine’s “5-7-9% affordable loan program” to prop up small businesses, the head of government announced on Facebook. He writes: “Small business owners need affordable resources to support their own business during the crisis. At the same time, there are new opportunities, so UAH 1 billion was spent on investment needs. We expect that this year we will have 7, 9 and even more billion hryvnias issued in the form of affordable loans for Ukrainian entrepreneurs.”

President Zelenskiy pledges support for Yuzhmash, the state-owned machine-building company that manufactures products for defense, aviation, agriculture, thermal power, and space industries. Visiting his native Dnipropetrovsk region, the President said: “We are ready to do everything possible to make Yuzhmash a Ukrainian brand and return the attention of various Western investors interested in its products.”

Construction on Dnipro airport’s new 3,000 meter runway will start next month, President Zelenskiy said yesterday on a visit to the city. Reviewing the tender schedule, he said: “I am sure that by the end of September we will see work on the airport.” Alexander Bondarenko, head of Dnipropetrovsk regional administration, added that DCH, the Kharkiv-based group, also will start work next month at the airport, building a new terminal.

Ukraine pays one of the highest electricity prices in Europe, according to the EU — €46.9  per MWh, while the European average was €33.5 per MWh. Countries paying the most are: Greece at €50 per MWh, Malta at €45 per MWh, Bulgaria €42 per MWh, Romania at €41 per MWh, Hungary and Poland €41 per MWh. The lowest are: Norway at €15 per MWh and Sweden at €17 per MWh.

Industrial output is down 4.8% yoy in July, according to the State Statistics Service. This represents a slight improvement from the 5.6% yoy drop recorded in June.

Food production is up 4.6% yoy in July, according to the State Statistics Service.

NBU board chairman Bohdan Danylyshyn says he thinks the disbursement of two tranches from the IMF in 2020 is unrealistic, Ukrinform reports. “Obviously, the baseline scenario of receiving two tranches by the end of this year – in September and December – is unrealistic. We can most likely expect the receipt of one tranche in the fourth quarter of 2020,” he says.

At the same time, Danylyshyn says “cooperation with the IMF will continue. Support from international partners remains one of the most important factors of macrofinancial stability in Ukraine. The planned revision of the program with the IMF, in my opinion, should be accompanied by a revision of the conceptual framework for cooperation and its focus on support for the national interests of Ukraine, not just international investors.”

Ukrbud’s unfinished construction problems are “basically resolved,” said Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. “The issue of Ukrbud is practically resolved, and I thank the city authorities and our colleagues for that, we worked here, found investors… And the issue of Ukrbud is practically removed from the agenda, and I believe that the last houses will be adopted soon.”

From Editor: I returned yesterday from my first trip to Turkey — a week on Aegean coast, between Bodrum and Ephesus. I come home to Kyiv frankly impressed with Turkey’s level of development. Turkey’s road builders are world famous, but it is a real pleasure to drive the four lane divided highways – and smooth side roads. I may have been on Turkey’s Gold Coast, but the country looks solidly middle class. Over the last decade, Turkey’s GNP per capita rose by 50%, to $15,000 today. By contrast, Ukraine’s official GNP per capita flat lined over the last decade, hovering around $3,300. Even if 40% of Ukraine’s economy is in cash, that would still make Turkey three times richer than Ukraine. Both countries had about the same population in 1990. Today, Turkey, with 84 million is at least twice as large. For linguistic, cultural, historic and religious reasons, Ukrainians naturally focus on Poland and the rest of Europe. But it would be well worthwhile for Ukrainians to study what their southern neighbor has achieved —  going from poverty to middle class in one generation. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, August 26 – Rada Ratifies Nearly $2 billion in EU Aid

Ukreximbank Buys Bonds to Build Roads.Capital Investments Down 35%...State Aid for Cheap Mortgages and Small Business Loan….Tymoshenko on Ventilator for COVID..
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 Rada ratifies a memorandum of understanding between Ukraine and the EU for €1.2 billion of pandemic-related financial assistance, according to the results of yesterday’s extraordinary session. The agreement is to be the largest tranche of EU funds directly disbursed to Ukraine, according to Prime Minister Shmygal.

The money is conditioned on the government’s pledge to ensure competitive selections for key positions, including the heads of Ukraine’s tax and customs agencies. Other conditions include dissolving the existing State Fiscal Service and creating a new agency to investigate economic and financial crimes.

The exact terms of the pandemic-relief loan have not yet been revealed, but previous EU liquidity programs were offered at 2% annual interest or lower to European Neighborhood Policy countries.

Back in May, the European Parliament and Council decided to extend macro-financial credit assistance to European Neighborhood Policy countries. The ENP countries are Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.

The Rada signs off on a European Investment Bank program worth €450 million to help Ukraine’s big road building program, according to the government.  The Bank says: “The financing will increase safety and help modernize parts of the network included in the extended Trans-European Network for Transport (TEN-T), which links the country internationally and to the EU in particular.”

The €450 million in EIB financing covers:

Construction of a new northern motorway bypass in Lviv region. The bypass is expected to serve 20,000 vehicles a day and will connect Kyiv’s Chop international highway and the Lviv – Lutsk national road. It will connect Lviv to Rava Ruska, Lviv to Krakovets and Lviv to Shegyni international highway on the route from Ukraine to Poland.

Upgrade of a 314 km section of the M05 highway on the Kyiv-Odessa route. This is the main connection between Kyiv and the Black Sea ports and serves 10,000 to 25,000 vehicles daily.

Ukreximbank signed an agreement with the State Roads Agency to purchase local currency bonds worth UAH 2.87 billion at 9.99%, the press service of the bank reports on Facebook. The state-owned bank raised funds for the purchase in the form of a refinancing loan from the National Bank of Ukraine, which was with a 3-year tenor and 6% interest rate. “Using a new instrument for the market, introduced by the NBU to stimulate investment and long-term lending, on August 19, the bank took part in the auction of an interest rate swap. After that it signed agreement with Ukravtodor,” said the bank’s board chairman Yevhen Metzger.

Ukreximbank combined three instruments at once – a refinancing loan, an interest rate swap and purchase of securities. Metzger said: “This is the first market transaction of this magnitude.”

Capital investments are down by 345% ($2.56 billion) in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period last year, reports Liga Busines,s citing the State Statistics Service. Investment in agriculture decreased by 45.5%, in heavy industries by 32%, in construction by 23%, in  trade by 32.5%, in transport by 54.4%. Investments in courier services were up 39% and telecoms by 10%.

The Rada approves state guarantees on $183 million of loans made to small and medium-sized enterprises, according to the government. Should borrowers default, the government will be obligated to repay up to 80% of the principal on loans made to entrepreneurs by state-owned banks.

The Rada authorizes the Ministry of Finance to issue more domestic local currency bonds (OVDPs) for the additional capitalization of the State Mortgage Agency to expand mortgage lending, reports Liga.net.

The central bank plans to regulate the debt collection market, the bank reports on Facebook. The National Bank of Ukraine  says it received hundreds of complaints about shady debt collectors using unethical methods, including force. First Deputy Governor Kateryna Rozhkova says the central bank will create a public register of authorized collection companies.

Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of Ukraine’s Fatherland party, is in serious condition after being hospitalized for Covid-19, r her press secretary Marina Soroka writes on Facebook. “Unfortunately, there is no good news now. Yulia’s condition remains difficult…Since last night, she has been receiving an intensive therapy course, according to the COVID treatment protocol.” She said Tymoshenko’s temperature hit to 39 degrees (102F). Segodnya Ukraine reports Tymoshenko is connected to a ventilator.

The Cabinet of Ministers calls for some quarantine measures to be extended until November 1, according to the office of the president. Over 108,000 people in Ukraine are known to be infected with Covid-19. The most affected regions today are Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv and Ternopil.

“But quarantine must remain adaptive and un-burdensome for entrepreneurs,” Zelenskiy stressed. “Small and medium-sized businesses should be able to properly maneuver in the new conditions.”

The government is in the process of developing regulations to ban citizens from “red zone” countries from entering Ukraine for 30 days, said the president. Globally, nearly 25 million people are confirmed to be infected with Covid-19, with the real number likely to be higher due to undertesting.

Zelenskiy suggests Ukraine should open up for Belarusians, given the increasing instability and continuing protests against President Lukashenko. “How can we ban Belarusians from entering, especially given the extremely tense domestic political situation in them? I think that it is necessary to reasonably prescribe easier conditions for Belarusians to enter us. This is a very delicate topic – everything must be taken into account.”

UIA will operate two Kyiv-New York-Kyiv flights – one next Monday and the other on Sept. 9. The jets leave Kyiv Boryspil in the morning, turnaround at New York’s JFK, and then take off again for Ukraine at 5:45 pm. The one-way fare is $482. Americans and residents of the United States have to undergo Covid tests on arrival in Boryspil and start 2-week self-isolation, until tests come back negative. Tickets can only be bought through the UIA website: https://www.flyuia.com/ua/en/home.

From the Editor: Alert reader Petro Rondiak, Board Manager of Winner Group, the new car importer, points out that that the latest numbers on car imports show that new car imports were up 15.9% yoy in July — and down only 2.2% for the first seven months of this year, compared to last year. Ukravtoprom, the automobile trade association, reports that used car imports were down 41% yoy for the first half of this year. For the first half of 2020, Ukrainians imported 37,600 new cars and 155,900 used cars.

In response to a note by alert reader Vitaliy Sych, editor of NV business news site: the government plans to use almost 500,000 cubic meters of metallurgical slag for road building this year. Arcelor Mittal has transferred 50 million tons of slag to Ukravtodor. To convert tons to cubic meters, simply use your handy online slag-o-meter. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Friday, August 21 – Qatar’s QTerminals signed the concession for the Olvia port

Qatar’s QTerminals Signs Concession to Run Ukrainian Port…Ukraine Pivots to Asia…Banking Changes…Naftogaz in Egypt….Kharkiv Tries Poaching IT Talent…Agriculture and Employment down...
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

Qatar’s QTerminals yesterday signed the concession agreement for the Olvia port in Mykolaiv region, reports Interfax Ukraine. Infrastructure Minister Vladislav Krykliy announced: “QTerminals is to invest about [$124 million] in the development of Olvia port and preserve jobs.  The $3 million annual concession payment will be 16 times the port’s profit last year. .” QTerminals operates Hamad, the largest commercial port of Qatar, valued at $7 billion.

“The successful signing of pilot concessions for the ports of Olvia and Kherson proved that the public-private partnership model can effectively attract private investment in Ukrainian infrastructure,” commented IFC Ukraine chief Jason Pellmar. “Both projects will serve as models for future concessions in various sectors of the Ukrainian economy. This work is fully consistent with our key mission – improve the competitiveness of Ukraine and accelerate its economic growth.”

China strengthens its position as Ukraine’s top trading partner, with $6.6 billion in bilateral trade in the first half of 2020, according to the State Statistics Service. For perspective, bilateral trade between Ukraine and the United States amounted to just $382 million during the same period. China, Russia and Poland are Ukraine’s main export destinations. Ukraine’s top sources of imports are China, Germany and Russia.

Ukraine’s exports to South Korea grew by 89% to $252 million in the first half of 2020, reports the State Statistics Service.

The Cabinet of Ministers canceled a 1992 agreement with the Russia regarding mutual trade representatives, according to the government. “To stop the agreement between the government of Ukraine and the government of the Russian Federation on the mutual establishment of trade missions, concluded in Moscow on October 22, 1992,” the website says.

Ukraine’s central bank has established “flexible” guidelines for the restructuring of debt assumed by green energy producers. The National Bank of Ukraine website writes: “The NBU has provided for a possibility for the banks to apply restructuring instruments irrespective of the status of the borrower’s existing leverage.” Kyrylo Shevchenko, the new central bank governor, previously ran UkrGasBank, the nation’s largest lender to solar and wind projects.

The central bank simplifies the banking charter process. The NBU website: “The regulator has reduced the number of documents that must be submitted by banks for approval by managers. Now the process of preparing the appropriate package of documents will be easier and will save time that banks spend on the approval of managers.”

Monetary policy targets an annual inflation rate of 5%, reports Ukrinform, citing the NBU.

Oschadbank plans to auction off non-performing loan portfolios starting in autumn 2020, reports Interfax Ukraine. In the first half of this year this state bank wrote off $800 million in non performing loans. This reduced the non-performing loans in its credit portolio from 55% of total assets at the start of the year, to 48% today.  The bank’s NPL targest are: 37% in 2021; 11% in 2022; 7% in 2023.

Naftogaz will develop its assets in Egypt instead of selling them, reports the company’s press service. Last December, , the state company  announced plans to sell off two oil and gas fields near  Alam El Shawish to raise  $100 million. Naftogaz Chief Andrei Kobolyev said the SBU opposed the deal.  Sergiy Pereloma, first deputy head of Naftogaz “The Management Board and Supervisory Board of Naftogaz have set a clear task for us – the development of assets in Egypt.”

NV magazine publishes its top 100 “most influential” people in Ukraine. The top 5 in chronological order are: President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Presidential Head Andriy Yermak, pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

Kharkiv tries to poach IT specialists from Belarus by offering relocation perks, reports Interfax-Ukraine. “Kharkiv IT-community sincerely empathizes with Belarussian colleagues who are forced to be in unstable conditions and psychological pressure. Kharkiv IT-Cluster understands that in such conditions it is difficult not only for IT-business to maintain stability, but also to live and work,” the  organization said.

Epicenter K, a local home improvement chain, is introducing a new browsing format for shoppers. “It is sometimes difficult for a buyer to imagine a complete picture of the future interior according to a single sample, therefore we present expositions in the Ceramics Center “in almost the same way as at international exhibitions,” said Julia Korsun, head of the Ceramic Tile department at Epicenter K.

Unemployment is up 67% y-o-y since the beginning of quarantine measures, reports UNIAN citing the State Employment Service. Between March and August 2020, about 432,000 more Ukrainians were officially registered as unemployed. Given the large size of Ukraine’s shadow economy, the real number is likely to be higher.

Agricultural production in the first half of 2020 dipped 11.2% y-o-y, according to the State Statistics Service. Production by industrial scale-enterprises was down by 15.3% while small-scale producers by 4.2%.

The World Bank praised Ukraine’s coronavirus response, says Deputy Health Minister Svitlana Shatalova. “On August 17, during a meeting between Health Minister Maksym Stepanov and World Bank Country Director for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine Arup Banerji, the World Bank highly appreciated the work of the Health Ministry of Ukraine in the very difficult conditions of the pandemic and in the conditions of extremely tight deadlines,” Shatalova said.

From the Editor: Please forward UBN news to  your friends and co-workers. You can read the news in 5 languages: RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN, ENGLISH, GERMAN and FRENCH at www.ubn.news. Dear readers enjoy your long weekend. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Thursday, August 20 – Norwegian and Austrian investors plan to invest $1 billion

Wind, Solar and Hydrogen: Renewable Investments Are Renewed...Saakashvili Prepares Radical Simplification of Customs...With EU Corona Barriers High, UIA Cancels Fall Flights to a Dozen EU Cities...Swedes Buy Kyiv Computer Game Co.
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

Norwegian and Austrian investors plan to invest $1 billion in Zaporizhia to build one of Europe’s largest data centers and a hydrogen production plant, next to the Dnipro hydroelectric power plant. H2 LLC signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday with Ukrhydroenergo and Energoatom, Mykhailo Fedorov, Digital Transformation Minister, told reporters in Zaporizhia. Two weeks ago in Kyiv, the principals on the project, Andriy Zhovner, Director of H2 LLC, and Walter Komarek, CEO of Yom Capital Ltd., discussed the project with Olha Buslavets, acting Energy Minister.

In Dnipropetrovsk region, River Wind Ukraine plans to build wind and solar power plants with a total capacity of 4 GW on Kakhovka Reservoir, the regional government reports. Billed as Ukraine’s ‘first hybrid renewable energy park,’ the project calls for covering 10% of the reservoir’s 2,155 square kilometers with floating solar panels placed among 155 to 172 wind turbine towers. Financed in part by German investors, the park is to create hydrogen for export to Germany. Project manager Viktor Dinysyuk tells ecotown.ua: “Germany is ready to buy hydrogen from our company.” Construction is to start next year.

Germany’s Nordex will supply 34 wind turbines for the first phase of the Franco-Norwegian wind farm on Lake Syvash, reports Novii Vizit, a regional Kherson news site. The turbine model — N131 / 3900 – is designed by the kind of weak but steady winds found in the shallow lagoons of Syvash, on Crimea’s northern border. Power China is the contractor of the project, a joint venture between Norway’s NBT and France’s Total Eren.

Witkowitz, a Czech manufacturer of machine-building equipment, plans to invest €50 million in Dnipro’s in Yuzhny Machine Building Plant. Based in the coal and steel region of Moravia-Silesia, Witkowitz plans to invest in reconstructing diesel locomotive train engines and in producing hydrogen engines.

In the government’s latest musical chairs, Andriy Pavlovsky is the new acting head of Customs – the third to hold the post in a year. The outgoing head of Customs, Igor Muratov, was fired for the same reason his predecessor lost the post in April – failure to bring in desired tax revenue for the government. With imports down by 20%, Customs is $1.3 billion below target.

A radical simplification of customs is the goal of legal package drawn up this summer by Mikheil Saakashvili’s National Reforms Council. This fall, the Rada is expected to pass the changes, including elevating the head of Customs to Deputy Finance Minister rank.

Highlights are:

  • Unify duty rates – think flat tax
  • Cut the number of documents needed at the border from 26 to two
  • Pay higher than average salaries to Customs employees
  • Remove the human interface from Customs as much as possible –in a pilot project to automate customs clearance, Kyiv Customs issued over1,000 export declarations automatically this summer
  • Introduce jail terms to for smuggling and trading in contraband
  • Clear imported cars according to a transparent formula — according to make, model, year and condition
  • The goal: clear trucks at land borders in 15 minutes

Concorde Capital’s Zenon Zawada writes: “Customs is notoriously difficult to deal with, having created enormous lines at border crossings for as long as can be remembered. Saakashvili’s customs proposals have enormous potential for positive change.”

Ukraine reported a record 1,967 new Covid-19 cases yesterday morning, says Health Minister Maksym Stepanov. “Covid is gaining momentum,” warns the Minister. “We have seen this tendency for the last month. We crossed the line very quickly with 1,000 ill per day. Now we are approaching 2,000 ill.” In Kyiv, 215 residents, including 13 children, contracted coronavirus in the latest 24-hour reporting period. Mayor Klitschko writes on Facebook: “The number of Covid-19 patients in Kyiv has increased steeply.”

Concorde Capital’s Zenon Zawada writes: “The situation is getting worse, with the authorities remaining remarkably silent (out of concern for losing poll ratings ahead of the October elections). Hospitals will be overwhelmed if new infections continue surfacing in the daily range of 2,000.”

With the EU showing no sign of lowering its corona barriers to Ukrainians, UIA is cancelling its flights this fall to 11 EU cities and to Tbilisi, Georgia. The EU cities are: Budapest, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Larnaca, Naples, Stockholm, Venice, Vienna, Warsaw and Zurich.

SAS resumed flights yesterday between Oslo and Boryspil. Last October, flights resumed after an 8-year break. But this new service lasted only five months, until corona controls forced suspension of the route in March.

Wizz started flights last weekend between Italy and Lviv. The discount airline now flies between Lviv and Rome Ciampino and between Lviv and Milan Malpensa.

SkyUp, Ukraine’s discount airline, starts flights Oct. 25 between Belgrade and Kyiv Boryspil. In Southeast Europe, the carrier currently operates regular flights to Albania’s Tirana, and Bulgaria’s Burgas.

The Cabinet of Ministers is allocating $4 million in an effort to finally complete the long overdue and long over budget Odesa runway project, Prime Minister Shmygal said yesterday. Separately, in a long term effort to provide reliable air service to Zakarpattia, budget money also will be allocated to design an airport for Mukachevo. Located on site of an old Soviet air base, the Mukachevo airport would replace the Uzhgorod airport, which borders on Slovakia.

Sweden’s Embracer Group is paying $36 million to acquire Ukraine’s 4A Games. Founded by three Ukrainian developers in Kyiv in 2006, 4A Games has grown to have 150 employees between Kyiv and the company’s current headquarters in Malta. With Embracer, 4A will continue to develop its Metro which take place in post-apocalyptic Russia devastated by a nuclear war. If 4A meets defined performance targets, Embracer commits to paying the 4A principals a maximum of $35 million within five years.

How Ukrainian startups can attract investment from European venture capital firms will be the theme Sept. 2 of a webinar hosted on Zoom by Adam Smith Conferences. With the participation of leading Europeans and Ukrainians in the field, the discussion will revolve around how to “create better incubator and accelerator resources and create a culture of angel investment in Ukraine.” Speakers include: Victoria Tigipko, managing partner at TA Ventures; Kirill Bigai, CEO & Co-founder of Preply.com; and David Gilgur, Founding Partner at Blue Lake Accelerator and Director at VimesVC. The 2-hour session is free, but participants must register in advance.

Borys Paton, the Ukrainian engineer who chaired the National Academy of Sciences for 58 years, has died in Kyiv at 101. Paton became director of the Yevhen Paton Institute of Electric Welding in 1953, the year his father, Yevhen, inaugurated Kyiv’s Paton Bridge. The world’s first all-welded bridge, Paton bridge is the oldest and longest of Kyiv’s five road bridges across the Dnipro.

From the Editor – Despite last month’s tariff cuts on renewables – 15% for solar, 7.5% for wind – foreign investors continue pouring millions of dollars into new projects.  But one red flag: not only is Ukrenergo almost $1 billion behind on paying back bills, it is falling behind on new bills. Yesterday, Prime Minister Shmygal reviewed options: a $1 billion ‘Green Bond,’ or simply taking the money from Ukraine’s $28.5 billion reserves. Either way, a solution has to be found. In recent years, renewables constituted the biggest bright spot for bricks and mortar foreign direct investment into Ukraine. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Wednesday, August 19 – Ferrexpo Poltava Mining marked half a billion tons of iron ore concentrate

Poltava Mines Enough Iron Ore to Build 100 Egyptian Pyramids...Cargill Loans €250 Million to Ukraine...Ad Agencies Expand...Kyiv’s Cautious Corona Curbs
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

Ferrexpo Poltava Mining marked this month half a billion tons of iron ore concentrate produced since the mine opened 50 years ago. “The first ton of concentrate was produced in 1970, and after 50 years of operation, PGOK produced the 500-millionth one,” said Viktor Lotous, Board Chairman of Poltava GOK. Over the last 20 years, $3 billion has been invested in Poltava Mining, he said. With demand high in China,  the mine and processing plant shipped a record 1.1 million tons of iron ore pellets in March. For comparison, 500 million tons is 93 times the weight of Egypt’s largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Giza, according to The Heaviest Objects in the World.

Ukraine is to raise up to €250m in two loans from Cargill Financial Services, the Cabinet of Ministers reported Monday. The loans are to be: three years at 5.95% and five years at 6.85%. One year ago, the Finance Ministry conducted a similar operation, borrowing from Cargill at slightly lower rates:  €100 million for two years at 5.15% and €150 for five years at 6.25%.

Concorde Capital’s Alexander Paraschiy writes of the new loans: “The conditions under Cargill’s private loan look close to market rates, taking into account that Ukraine’s public six-year debt (EUR-denominated Eurobond maturing in June 2026) trades currently at 6.61% YTM. The loan will allow Ukraine to partially compensate the large foreign currency debt outlays of August-September, which amount to about $3 billion.”

The Finance Ministry raised the equivalent of $91 million in its weekly government bond auction yesterday – one quarter the $366 million raised one week earlier. Highlights were: 6-month hryvnia bonds placed at 7.82%; 2-year hryvnia bonds placed at 10.14%; and 8-month dollar bonds placed at 3.39%.

Due to the corona-recession, state budget revenues are $1.4 billion below plan for the first half of this year, Valery Patskan, chairman of the Accounting Chamber, writes on Facebook. About 37% of the drop is due to a fall in customs duties due a 20% drop in imports during the first half.

Watching “the sharp aggravation of the situation in the Republic of Belarus,” President Zelenskiy said after a security council meeting Monday night: “The events in this country could significantly affect Ukraine.” But hours earlier, as labor slowdowns spread through Belarus’ two oil refineries, the Cabinet of Ministers reintroduced special duties on imports from Russia of: liquefied gas (3%), diesel (4%), and most types of coal (65%).  The duties expire Dec. 31.

Pre-election populism at the Rada. President Zelenskiy vetoed a bill that would extend through the end of next year the moratorium on foreclosures for foreign currency mortgage loans. Why? The way the Rada sponsors worded the bill last month, it would have banned foreclosures under any loan agreement. As written, the bill would have brought “chaos into Ukraine’s entire financial system,” writes Concorde’s Paraschiy.

Banda, a leading Ukrainian ad agency, is opening an office in California, its first office outside of Kyiv. Yaroslav Serdyuk, the agency’s co-founder and strategy director, writes on Facebook from California: “We already have four ongoing projects in the U.S.: designing a brand identity for a promotional campaign of a Hollywood film, brand creation for two investment funds, and we are also preparing to launch a new campaign for a cannabis brand.”

France’s MSL public relations company is opening an office in Kyiv, strengthening parent company Publicis Groupe’s presence in Ukraine. The new office will be led by Olena Sukhanova, a 9-year veteran of Ukrainian marketing agency Tabasco.  Last year, MSLGROUP was the only European company in the top10 of the Holmes Report 250 Global Ranking of PR Firms.

The founders of Nova Poshta are investing in Fedoriv Agency’s Kooperativ co-working space at 23 Sichovykh Striltsiv, Kyiv. The investors, Viacheslav Klimov and Volodymyr Popereshniuk, plan to convert the ad agency’s existing space in Arena City into a working hub with places for 100 people.

With Ukraine reporting record levels of new Covid-19 infections – about 1,600 a day for the last week – Kyiv is mildly tightening restrictions this week. Everyone is to carry an ID on the street. Masks are to be worn in ‘indoor public spaces’ and on all public transport. Trams, trolleybuses, buses and minibuses carry only seated passengers. But the metro allows standees. Kyiv tightened restrictions after Covid-19 cases occupied 52% of reserved hospital beds. In the five months of the virus, 2,116 Ukrainians have died of the disease, including 155 in Kyiv.

Schools will open as scheduled Sept. 1, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov promises. Online learning will be mandatory only in the nation’s ‘Red Zones.’ Currently these are three towns and five districts – less than 1% of Ukraine’s 37 million people. In one ‘Red Zone’ city, Lviv region’s Sambir, the town council refused to tighten restrictions after local business owners protested outside the council building.

With local elections coming in two months, politicians have no appetite for a return to the severe lockdown of last spring. Concorde Capital’s Zenon Zawada writes: “The Zelenskiy administration has largely remained silent on the surge in infections. Moreover, no significant quarantine and lockdown restrictions have been introduced. Only in Kyiv and two regions are hospital bed occupancy rates exceeding 50%, indicating that the situation is relatively stable despite the surge.”

Orthodox Jewish pilgrims are asked to refrain from visiting Uman next month to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, “due to the threatening epidemiological situation,” according to a joint statement by Israel and Ukraine. In a normal year, 30,000-50,000 Orthodox make the pilgrimage. This year, it would be Sept. 18-20.  Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that last month the government reached a similar agreement with Ukraine’s Orthodox churches to refrain from the traditional July 28 mass processions celebrating the Christianization of Kyivan Rus.

Returning to the air after coronavirus travel curbs, UIA had to “start practically from scratch,” to rebuild business, airline president Yevgeny Dykhne writes on Facebook. From mid-June to mid-August, Ukraine’s flag carrier carried 113,345 passengers on 1,238 flights. Last year, the airline carried 4 million passengers.

Marta Kolomayets, American director of the Fulbright Program in Ukraine for seven years, died Sunday at the age of 61 after a long illness. As the local head of Fulbright, she helped more than 300 Ukrainians pursue Masters and Doctorate degrees at US universities. The daughter of Ukrainian emigres, Kolomayets first visited the Ukrainian SSR in 1985, but was kicked out for filming interviews with Soviet dissidents. She returned in 1990s, opening the Kyiv bureau of the Ukrainian Weekly, the first foreign media bureau in modern Ukraine.

From the Editor – During the first half of this month, 74,000 Ukrainians vacationed in Antalya, the resort city on Turkey’s ‘Turquoise Coast.’ Ukrainians almost outnumbered Brits and Germans combined. This morning, I do my bit for Turkish tourism, flying with my family to Bodrum, on the Aegean. Thanks to help from the UBN research assistant in Kyiv, this email will not skip a beat during my one-week vacation. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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

Belarus Strikes May Starve Ukraine’s Roadbuilders of Asphalt...Belarus Eurobonds: Worst Performers of Emerging Markets...Ukraine’s Garage Sale: Government to Auction Leases for 4,262 Empty Buildings...A Rebound Coming? Ukraine Buys Back GDP Warrants...
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, August 17 – “This will be the beginning of your end…” – Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko

Belarus Bends, Ukraine Watches...Ukraine Invites Belarus IT Workers to Move Here...Exports to China Double...Chinese State Co. Wants to Build Deepwater Port in Ochakiv, a Historic Chokehold on the Dnipro...Kharkiv’s Yaroslavsky Offers to Raise $1 billion to Revive City’s Aircraft Plant...Kolomoisky’s Airplane Shell Game?
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

“This will be the beginning of your end, you will go down on your knees like in Ukraine,” Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko warned 40,000 supporters in Minsk Sunday, rebutting calls for his resignation. A few hours later, participants at mass opposition rally of 220,000 chanted for Lukashenko to go. After a week of violent police attacks on protesters, policing was light. Workers at key state factories walked out on Friday. Today, state television workers threaten to strike, demanding an end to censorship.

On Saturday, Lukashenko asked President Putin for Russia to intervene militarily. But, according to the Kremlin readout of the call, Putin only promised to keep talking to the besieged 65-year-old leader. In Belarus, protesters do not call for withdrawal from two Moscow-led organizations – the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Without an anti-Moscow slant to the Belarus protest, some analysts drew parallels last night to the 2018 revolution in Armenia. They predict the Kremlin will work with a Belarus democracy movement that does not take aim at Russia.

“Why Vladimir Putin Is Unlikely to Invade Belarus,” headlines an Atlantic Council piece by Anders Aslund, a veteran observer of the region. “While it is impossible to rule out a Russian military intervention, there are numerous good reasons to presume that it will not take place,” Aslund, a Swedish-American economist, writes Sunday from Washington. He cites: Putin’s dislike for the Belarusian leader; Lukashenko’s loss of popular support, and, possibly, security forces support; and “so far, no slogans against Putin or Russia have emerged.” He concludes: “The Kremlin should be able to live with that.”

Belarus is Ukraine’s fourth largest trading partner, largely a transit country for goods restricted by the Russia-Ukraine trade war. Despite this close economic relationship, President Zelenskiy probably will not travel to Grodno, Belarus on Oct. 8-9, for an annual bilateral trade and investment conference. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told UA: Ukrainian Radio on Friday: “Until the situation in Belarus stabilizes, it would be reckless to announce any visit or initiative.”

Eying Belarus’ dynamic IT industry, Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister posted an appeal to Belarus IT companies and specialists to relocate south of the border — to Ukraine. “Belarus has been going through one of the deepest political crises in its history,” Mikhalo Fedorov posts on his Facebook page. He says that, under a new recruitment program, foreign IT specialists can get their Ukraine work permits in 5-7 days – “that’s all.” Noting that this year’s quota is 5,000 “highly qualified IT specialists,” he says the national distribution is: Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa and Lviv regions – 600;  Kharkiv – 700; and Kyiv – 2,500.

A near doubling of exports to China reduced Ukraine’s trade deficit to $1.3 billion for the first half of this year, the lowest level in recent years. The State Statistics Service reports exports to China rose 93%yoy to $3 billion, to Poland dropped 14%, to $1.5 billion; and to Russia dropped 17%, to $1.3 billion. Overall, Ukraine exported $22.9 billion worth of goods and imported $24.2 billion. For imports, Ukraine’s imports from China dropped 7%, to $3.6 billion; from Germany dropped 17%, to $2.5 billion; and from Russia dropped 43%, to $2.2 billion.

China’s purchase of ship parts and R&D services for aircraft engines made it the largest buyer of military equipment from UkrOboronProm during the first half of this year. Of $145 million in sales, the biggest buyers from the state defense conglomerate were: China, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Of all deliveries, 56% went to Asia-Pacific.

China Railway Construction Corporation is talking with Vadym Novinsky’s Smart Holding about building a deep water port at Ochakiv, a Black Sea port 60 km south of Mykolaiv city. A strategic chokepoint controlled by at least 10 different peoples over the last 2,500 years, Ochakiv is 3.6 km across from the Kinburn Spit, a position that controls shipping to the mouth of the Dnipro. Smart Holding reports the Chinese are discussing doubling the depth of the harbor, to 15-18 meters, building a 70 km rail spur to Mykolaiv, and building port terminals for grain and iron ore, two products that dominate Ukraine’s trade with China, now its largest trading partner.

Given Ochakiv’s strategic location, facing Crimea 100 km to the south, US Navy Seabees built last year a $700,000 operations center at Ochakiv for Ukrainian Navy. When construction was announced, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian nationalist politician, announced: “This is Russian land – Ochakiv.” Next year, several US-supplied Mark VI fast patrol boats are to be based at Ochakiv.

Last month, CRCC, China’s second largest state-owned construction company, signed a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine’s Infrastucture Ministry about modernizing Ukraine’s inland waterways. These are the Dnipro, which flows through Kherson, and the Southern Bug, Ukraine’s second longest navigable river, which passes through Mykolaiv. For both projects, the Chinese team was led by Li Junqiang, executive director of CRCC’s subsidiary CRCC14 Overseas Construction and Development Co Ltd., and Wang Chuang, deputy general director of CRCC’s 14th Bureau Group.

Nibulon, the largest shipper on the Dnipro, is building a Black Sea port complex in Ochakiv and restoring the fish canning factory. To supply the cannery with fish, crustaceans and mollusks from the Dnipro-Buzky estuary, Nibulon’s CEO Oleksiy Vadatursky writes on his Facebook page that he is considering building shallow water fishing vessels at Nibulon’s shipyard in Mykolaiv.

Fresh from announcing a deal with Chinese investors to take over Motor Sich, Ukraine’s jet engine factory, Alekander Yaroslavsky offers to raise $1 billion to revive the aviation plant in his home city of Kharkiv. Earlier, Yaroslavsky’s DCH group rebuilt the terminal of Kharkiv airport and revived production at the Kharkiv Tractor Plant. Kharkiv Aircraft Plant has not made a plane since 2014. It largely survives by making spare parts and performing maintenance. It owes $8 million in back salaries. On Friday, Yaroslavsky offered to raise: $100 million to pay off debts; $500 million to complete airplanes on the production line and to start new ones; and $400 million for design development.

Today, flights resume between Kyiv and Yerevan, Armenia and between Kyiv and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Air service to the two countries was suspended five months ago as part of the coronavirus travel restrictions.

Do the math: Ihor Kolomoisky’s Windrose airline is receiving its 14th aircraft, a leased ATR-72-600. Within a year, Windrose is to receive another five of these regional turboprops, bringing its fleet to 19. At the same time, Kolomoisky’s UIA is cancelling leases and cancelling orders. Currently. UIA’s fleet is down 33, with 14 in storage. In 2013, Kolomoisky’s airline Aerosvit filed for bankruptcy and several jets were transferred to UIA.

From the Editor: What looks like the end game of Belarus’s Lukachenko promises to be entertaining to watch this week.  But in the slow days of August, take a step back for a long look at Ochakiv and who has controlled that narrow entrance to Ukraine’s hinterland. Recorded history starts around 6th Century BC with the Thracians and Scythians. Then came Pontic Greeks, Imperial Romans, Mongol Hordes, Moldavian Kings, Genoese merchants, Crimean Tatars, the Ottoman Empire, a Wallachian Prince, and, in 1788, the Czarist Russians, with an American naval officer, John Paul Jones, commanding the Russian fleet. In the Crimean War, an Anglo-French fleet took command of both sides of the strait in 1855. From 1941-1944, Romanians again occupied Ochakiv. Given the China’s proposal to double navigable depths and build modern terminals in a city with a population of 14,000, one wonders if they are playing the long game in a city that some dismiss as a backwater. With Best Regards Jim Brooke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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