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Mobile operator Veon's Russian assets lure investor interest, says CEO

By Supantha Mukherjee and Diana Mandia

(Reuters) -Amsterdam-listed telecom operator Veon's Russian business is luring the attention of investors, Chief Executive Kaan Terzioglu said on Thursday, a day after Veon said it would sell its activities in the country.

"Over the last three years, we have done an amazing job in terms of creating an asset, which today successfully gets the attention of competitors, of different investors in the country, and also the management" of Beeline itself, Terzioglu told Reuters.

Terzioglu said "the competitive sales process" for the business, which operates the Beeline brand, would get the group to where it want to be in terms of doing what was best for the company's future.

Renaissance Capital analyst Kirill Panarin said the possible sale of Russian assets was a positive step for shares in the near-term.

"The split of the business should decrease uncertainty related to capital controls and dividends, as well as increase international liquidity due to a removal of Veon’s high exposure to Russia."

Veon is joining many Western companies that have reduced their exposure to Russia or have terminated operations there since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February.

"There are multiple stakeholders here that needs to be handled very carefully and we are doing that in a very balanced way," Terzioglu said, declining to comment further on the sales process.

Russian operations make up over 50% of Veon's revenue.

'NOT A FOCUS ANYMORE'

Veon on Thursday reported a 3.6% year-on-year rise in third-quarter revenue to $2.08 billion, helped by 4G penetration and digital operator strategy despite macroeconomic and geopolitical challenges.

But Russia, Veon's largest market, reported a revenue decrease of 6.1% year-on-year in local currency for the three months ended September, impacted by decline in equipment revenue due to lower device sales.

"We have a very big retail network in Russia, but since the availability of smartphones are not there anymore, it's not a business that we focus on any more," Terzioglu said.

In Ukraine, where Veon operates the biggest cell phone provider Kyivstar, data consumption rose 29.7% in the quarter year-on-year, but earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were down 10.7% in local currency.

Around 90% of the group's radio network in Ukraine was operational at the end of the quarter, Veon said.

Veon's Moscow-listed shares were up more than 4% in morning trading.

(Reporting by Diana Mandiá in Gdansk and Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm ; Editing by Bernadette Baum)