Ukraine told an international conference Monday that it will cost an estimated $750 billion to rebuild the war-shattered country, a task President Volodymyr Zelensky said was the shared duty of the democratic world. Speaking at the opening of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Switzerland, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal described the massive destruction and acknowledged the needs were towering.
Ukraine’s recovery, he said, “is already estimated at $750 billion. We believe that the key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs.”
“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war, they caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it,” he said.
Speaking via video message, Zelensky stressed that “reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation.”
“It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said, insisting that “reconstruction of Ukraine is the biggest contribution to the support of global peace.”
The two-day conference, held under tight security in the picturesque southern Swiss city of Lugano, had been planned well before the invasion, and had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on reconstruction.
As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, however, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms remain in focus and will be a condition for any recovery plan decided here.
‘Fight against corruption’
Zelensky’s Swiss counterpart and co-host of the conference, Ignazio Cassis, stressed that reforms remained front and centre, with the aim of the meeting to lay “the groundwork for an effective and transparent political process.”
He said he was convinced that Ukraine’s resilience in the face of the Russian invasion was largely due to the reforms already implemented in the country. “It is crucial that these efforts continue unwaveringly, especially in the fight against corruption, improving transparency and the independence of the judiciary, and that they are not stalled by the war.”
He hailed that Ukraine had sent a large delegation of around 100 people to the conference, with Smyhal joined by speaker of parliament Rousland Stefantchouk and five government ministers.
In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.
“Ukraine can emerge from this on a path towards a stronger and more modern country, with a modernised judiciary, with stronger institutions, with a solid track-record to fight against corruption, but also with a greener, more digital and more resilient economy,” she said.
While the EU is intent on helping Ukraine win the war, she said, “we must also make sure that Ukraine wins the peace that will come for sure.”
Lugano is not a pledging conference but will instead attempt to lay out the principles and priorities for a rebuilding process aimed to begin even as the war rages. It will conclude Tuesday with a Lugano Declaration, which Cassis said would spell out the “framework for a long-term reconstruction process.”
Questions have been raised about the value in discussing reconstruction when there is no end in sight to the war.
Organisers and participants stress, however, the need to lay the groundwork well in advance, as was done with the wildly successful Marshall Plan, a US initiative that pumped vast sums in foreign aid into Western Europe to help the continent rebuild and recover after World War II.
The task is daunting.
The Kyiv School of Economics has estimated the damage so far to buildings and infrastructure at nearly $104 billion and that Ukraine’s economy has already suffered losses of up to $600 billion.
Simon Pidoux, the Swiss ambassador in charge of the conference, said that it was too early to try to estimate all the needs, insisting Lugano instead should provide “a compass” for the work ahead.
“I think the effort will last for years, if not decades,” he said.