The Buzz in Ukraine: Interview of Armen Khachaturyan to CEE Legal Matters
Author: Armen Khachaturyan
Source: CEE Legal Matters, 4 May 2020

“The Ukrainian Government is concerned with resolving the issues that arose following the outbreak of the pandemic,” says Armen Khachaturyan, Senior Partner at Asters in Kyiv. “This has led to many specific measures being adopted as a response to the new challenges that suddenly appeared, like postponing the deadlines for certain obligations and expanding interest loans to businesses, all of which are well-expected and, hopefully, efficient.”

Khachaturyan says that the crucial thing now is the pending support of the IMF. According to him, “the IMF is willing to provide its assistance, but only if some requirements are satisfied first.” He adds that the Ukrainian Parliament has made efforts to satisfy the IMF’s demands, but that some measures being considered, like lifting the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land and making sure that the resolved banks are not given back to former owners by courts, are highly controversial and hotly contested. “As an example of such contests, MPs filed more than 16,000 amendments to the banking bill after it was approved in the first reading. If all of these unprecedented amendments were taken seriously, the Parliament would have needed around two years to go through all of it, which is time we don’t have. This eventually led to the Parliament's elimination of MPs' ability to propose excessive amendments, but that only caused even bigger disagreements, as many feel like this may harm democracy in the long run. Nevertheless, most of Ukrainians see no option for the country to proceed but to resolve all outstanding issues soon so that it can count on the IMF’s support to overcome the crisis.”

Unsurprisingly, Khachaturyan reports, recent legislation in Ukraine has mostly centered around combating the Covid-19 crisis. “The Government introduced the ability for companies to re-negotiate rents if they are working remotely, made certain extensions of contractual obligations, and made it possible for state-owned banks to sell NPL’s at a discount, which was previously heavily controlled in order not to allow any kind of drop in performance.”

“Business is obviously on hold here, which isn’t any different than in the rest of the world," adds Khachaturyan. “Those actors who started with their investments before the beginning of the crisis haven’t stopped. This is visible the most in renewables sector, especially wind and solar, where initial investments are still running.”

Still, while Khachaturyan concedes that this is a depressing period, he also describes it as a time of great opportunity, noting that some clients, who are bolder than others, have used the situation to restructure their business and get themselves ready for when the crisis ends. “Those who see that the glass is actually half full have already emerged and started investing, targeting at first distressed assets, to use the situation in their favor." He adds that “they soon may be followed by others, as people are getting used to the situation.”

“What we can see from analysts and reviewers worldwide is that nothing will be the same after the pandemic passes,” says Khachaturyan. He believes that we will need to change our mentality, as well as the way we operate our businesses, which, in the end, may cause an interesting shift in the way things work. “For the economy to survive, people will need to restructure their businesses, which also applies to the legal market. This means establishing work from mobile devices, re-assessing efficiency, cutting unnecessary costs, emphasizing e-documents and so on. This also means that some other market players will emerge. We will restructure our business management, which reflects on areas such as HR, BD, marketing, and focusing on new products or prices.” For once, Ukraine’s turbulent history may work in its favor. “Even though the situation is hard to predict and it has unprecedented scale and challenges,” he says, “Ukraine went through a number of crises over its recent history, the last one in 2014, and this experience gave us a character that may help to get out of this situation efficiently."

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