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Russia's war against Ukraine
What we’re watching: the OSCE Permanent Council on Jan. 13.
Russia, NATO remain divided on key issues. Following a Jan. 12 meeting in Brussels, both sides remain at an impasse, unwilling to budge on the issue of Ukraine’s freedom to seek membership in the alliance and NATO’s ability to deploy troops in eastern Europe’s member states.
US announces joint work with Germany to delay Nord Stream 2 pipeline launch. The U.S. is working with Germany and the EU “to slow their consideration of implementation” of Russia’s gas pipeline, U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said during a briefing. “It’s suspended if Russia aggresses against Ukraine,” she said.
U.S. Senate Democrats unveil new Russia sanctions bill to bolster Ukraine’s security. The sweeping White House-backed sanctions would target top Russian military and government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, as well as key banking institutions if Moscow decides to invade Ukraine. The proposed legislation also encourages the U.S. to consider measures to ensure that the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline doesn’t become operational, The Washington Post reported.
Op-ed by Michael Khodarkovsky: What is next for Russia
Covid-19 in Ukraine
National Academy of Sciences: Next Covid-19 wave has already begun. The statement contradicts recent predictions made by the Health Ministry, which predicted the new wave to start in late January and peak sometime in February. The academy’s experts noted that positive tests are up by 40% compared to the last several days of December.
Ukraine increases minimum wage for doctors, paramedics. The government has decided to increase the minimum wage to $720 dollars (Hr 20,000) for doctors working at state and municipal medical institutions and to $500 (Hr 13,500) for nurses. The state has allocated $72 million dollars (Hr 2 billion) to the 2022 budget to pay for the wage increase.
State Investigation Bureau will seek to arrest ex-President Petro Poroshenko on Jan. 17. The bureau said that it would ask the court to impose “the most severe restrictions” on Poroshenko, who ignored investigators’ summons in December and went abroad. Poroshenko, who has been charged with treason for supplying coal to Ukrainian state-owned enterprises in Russian-occupied areas, is planning to return to Ukraine on Jan. 17.
Court orders closure of bribery case against top member of Zelensky’s administration. Oleh Tatarov, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, has become the symbol of Zelensky’s tolerance of corruption in his inner circle. A scandalous bribery case against Tatarov is now closed.
Ukraine introduces price regulation for basic foodstuffs until the end of pandemic. The list includes sugar, wheat flour, buckwheat, pasta, milk, butter, eggs, and poultry. The maximum permitted trade margin is set at 10% between prices charged by retail grocery stores and wholesale rates.
Ukrzaliznytsia generates $16 million profit in 2021 after pandemic losses. The state railway bounced back to profitability after posting a $436 million loss in 2020, but failed to match its 2019 results, when it turned a profit of $108 million. Ukrzaliznytsia said it managed to become profitable thanks to an increase in freight traffic, higher tariffs, the distribution of wagons through transparent auctions, and savings on all purchases.
New 5% loan program to be launched in early 2022. Rostyslav Shurma, deputy chief of staff at the President’s Office, told Interfax that the government’s planned “Ukrainian Dream” loan program will be set up between January and March. President Volodymyr Zelensky previously announced that the initiative will provide applicants with loans for homes, electric cars, and higher education at a reduced interest rate of 5%.
Naftogaz pays $4 billion in taxes in 2021. The state-owned oil and gas company paid Hr $4.3 billion (Hr 116 billion) in total to the state budget while making $360 million (Hr 10 billion) in revenue from January to September of last year. Naftogaz is responsible for over 10% of the country’s state revenue, making it the country’s largest taxpayer.
Naftogaz to invest $7.4 million in solar energy. The state gas monopoly is set to invest Hr 200 million to install solar panels on top of buildings of social infrastructure and law enforcement agencies in the eastern oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk and southern oblast of Kherson. The solar panels will also be used to accumulate energy and illuminate pedestrian crossings and public spaces at night.
Ukrainians buy record number of used foreign cars in 2021. Ukraine’s car fleet was replenished with 517,400 used cars, which is 46% more than the number in 2020. Volkswagen remained the most popular brand among imported second-hand cars, followed by Ford and Renault, Ukrautoprom reported.
Ukraine plans to join new International Monetary Fund program in 2022.Ukraine will start a new economic development project with the IMF following the completion of the current $5 billion stand-by program which concludes in June 2022, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal said at a government meeting. Shmyhal stated that the government is planning new projects with the IMF focused on economic recovery and growth.
Bootleg booze costs Ukraine $330 million a year in uncollected taxes. Nearly one-third of the alcohol market in Ukraine is unregulated, according to the World Health Organization. According to a new report by the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine, the government failed to “fully implement” the electronic excise tax stamp system, used to track alcoholic beverages in retail stores and to see if the product was entered into the tax service database.
Region: Kazakhstan protests
Russian troops reportedly start withdrawing from Kazakhstan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance, has reportedly begun pulling out of the country after the recent anti-government uprising was quelled. About 9,900 people were arrested by Kazakh authorities during the protests, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.
Highly-anticipated Ukrainian video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 delayed. The latest installment of Ukrainian video game franchise S.T.A.L.K.E.R will be delayed by over seven months, according to a press release published by the game’s developer GSC Game World. The game was scheduled to be released on April 28, but will now launch on Dec. 8. The developers stated that more time was needed to bring the game to its desired state.
Ukrainian company behind New Year’s light show for Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The company, called Ukrainian Magic Innovations, claims that they are the first Ukrainians to have produced a show for the world’s tallest building.