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It is not too early to plan Ukraine’s reconstruction

The Ukraine Recovery Conference, held in London from 21st to 22nd June, aimed to collect and organise funding for a multilateral redevelopment plan for Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction and provide further emergency assistance to Kyiv. Attendees, including Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK), Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Anthony Blinken, the United States (US) Secretary of State, as well as large private sector companies such as BlackRock and JPMorgan – who have been working on a Ukraine Development Fund at the behest of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President – faced a daunting task of devising the best way to support Ukraine’s reconstruction, which may require over US$411 billion (£323 billion), or even more. At the Conference, the European Union (EU) pledged a further €50 billion (£43 billion) on top of last year’s €30 billion (£26 billion), America US$1.3 billion (£1 billion), and Britain US$3 billion (£2.3 billion). 

While the promises and pledges for postwar reconstruction certainly demonstrate the long-standing determination of free and open countries in providing diplomatic and material support for Ukraine, some may question whether planning for the redevelopment of a post-war Ukraine is jumping the gun, as large swathes of the country remain occupied by Russia, not least crucial routes to the Black Sea. Nevertheless, the size of the reconstruction project and the time which will be required institutionally and logistically to redevelop the country when the war is over demands the consideration of postwar plans while Ukraine’s battle for freedom still rages.

In Ukraine, many schools, hospitals, universities, homes, roads, railways, water systems and ports will need to be rebuilt from the ground up. The planning and construction time needed for these large-scale projects, including their funding, designing, regulatory requirements, and building could reach years, even decades. Given this, there is no time to waste in getting the ball rolling. Setting a clear roadmap and timeframe for Ukraine’s recovery – with Kyiv leading discussions on exactly what it needs now and in the future – in the present will make potential investors in the country’s redevelopment more confident in the future. Without a clear plan for how Ukraine will be rebuilt, private sector funding may be out of reach, jeopardising the recovery.

Planning for the reconstruction of Ukrainian infrastructure in the present can also help to integrate Ukraine logistically with the rest of Europe and ease its future transition into Euro-Atlantic structures, notably the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and EU. 

Investments in a country whose security is bolstered by a potent collective defence alliance will be more stable and easier to insure than investments in one that is not.

On 24th June 2022, four months after Russia’s renewed aggression against Ukraine, Brussels granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status for EU membership. However, going from candidate to member is a less than simple journey; the institutional reforms that Ukraine would need in its judicial, political, economic, and agricultural systems to meet EU standards would be difficult for Ukraine even if it was not currently at war. Such a transition will take years if not decades. Whereas countries like Finland went from candidate to member in less than three years, the most recent enlargement involving Croatia took over eight. 

This is one reason why accession to NATO should be considered a much greater priority for Ukraine in the short-term than accession to the EU. Furthermore, beyond the obvious security considerations, it is clear that Ukraine’s admission into NATO would make sourcing public and private funding for its reconstruction easier and cheaper. Investments in a country whose security is bolstered by a US-led collective defence alliance will be more stable and easier to insure than investments in one that is not. If the war drags on for some time, a ‘frozen’ conflict settles in the east, or Russia becomes embroiled in some sort of civil conflict that destabilises what is Ukraine’s largest neighbour, Ukraine may become an unsatisfactory investment source for international financiers. It is essential that concrete steps are provided for Ukraine’s accession to NATO at the upcoming Vilnius Summit to make collecting funds and investments for Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction more seamless, now and in the future.

Britain is in a prime position to lead the charge for Ukraine’s postwar recovery.

Firstly, the trilateral initiative between the UK, Poland and Ukraine could act as an essential vehicle for Ukraine’s recovery, in particular by facilitating agricultural and commercial relations between the three members. British and particularly Polish support for European-Ukrainian joint ventures will be mutually beneficial for all countries while simultaneously easing Ukraine’s transition towards the EU Single Market.

Further, the UK could capitalise on its increasingly close relationship with the US to assuage concerns in Washington about Ukraine’s potential speedy accession to NATO, and push for public and private American funding for Ukraine’s redevelopment. The UK also has significant amounts of frozen Russian assets, and should expedite legislative changes to free and then use them to aid Ukraine’s reconstruction, something which would also send a signal to other free and open countries in a similar position. Indeed, as said by Sunak at the Recovery Conference, it is time to genuinely begin ‘…planting the seeds of Ukraine’s future.’

Jason Beck is Charles Pasley Intern at the Council on Geostrategy. He is currently completing his Master of Arts in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies with a focus on International Economics and Finance in Eurasia.

Embedded image credit: Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street (CC BY 2.0 cropped)

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