Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, delivers a speech by video conference during the Ukraine Recovery Conference URC, Monday, July 4, 2022 in Lugano, Switzerland. The URC is organised to initiate the political process for the recovery of Ukraine after the attack of Russia to its territory. (Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP)
LUGANO, Switzerland (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday the reconstruction of his war-battered country is the “common task of the entire democratic world," as his prime minister laid out a $750 billion recovery plan once the guns of Russia's invaders fall silent one day.
As Russian forces continued their crushing advance in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, Zelenskyy spoke by video message to the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Switzerland about the needs of the country that has been on an up-and-down march toward democracy since the end of the Cold War and now faces widespread devastation.
“The reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local project, is not a project of one nation, but a common task of the entire democratic world — all countries, all countries who can say they are civilized," Zelenskyy told hundreds of attendees in Lugano. ”Restoring Ukraine means restoring the principles of life, restoring the space of life, restoring everything that makes humans humans."
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said such a recovery would require a sort of “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine to help it rebuild.
Such ambitions, Zelenskyy said, will require wide-scale construction, funding and security “in all of our country which will be forced to continue living beside Russia.”
The task, which is already under way in some areas that were liberated from Russian forces, aims to leverage outside expertise, government funds and work of Ukrainians to rebuild hospitals, schools, government buildings, homes and apartments — but also water pipes, gas lines and other battered infrastructure.
“Today, we’re all united in our defense. Tomorrow in our reconstruction,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who attended in person. He presented a recovery plan that meets immediate needs — even as the war continues — followed by a “fast recovery” when it's over, and then longer-term requirements.
Shmyhal said the cost of the recovery plan is estimated at $750 billion, and insisted a key source of funding “should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs.” He cited unspecified estimates that such sums total $300 billion to $500 billion now.
"The Russian authorities unleash this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction and they should be held accountable for it," Shmyhal said.
Valdis Dombrovskis, vice president of the European Union's executive branch, said using such confiscated Russian assets would involve criminal law, so the “legal obstacles” weren't resolved, “but we think it’s important that according to the principle of ‘aggressor pays’ it’s also Russia’s assets which are directed to the reconstruction of Ukraine.”
Earlier Monday, a leading Swiss nongovernmental group called out Switzerland as a “safe haven” for Russian oligarchs and as a trading hub for Russian oil, grain and coal.
Public Eye urged the Swiss executive branch to “use all levers at its disposal to stop the financing of this inhuman aggression,” a reference to Russia's war that has killed thousands of people, driven millions from their homes, and rippled through world economy by driving up food and fuel prices.
It said Switzerland has been over the years a “popular refuge” for Russian business magnates to park their assets. The group said firms use Switzerland as an “unregulated commodity trading hub” and exploit a lack of transparency about financial dealings in the country.
There was no immediate response from the Swiss government.
The group welcomed Switzerland’s “humanitarian engagement” for Ukraine through the conference but called on the government to strictly implement international sanctions on Russian elites and their government, and better regulate its trading hub.
Switzerland is a major international financial center and its government has traditionally touted Swiss “neutrality” — which is enshrined into law — and Switzerland’s role as an intermediary between hostile countries and as a host of many international and U.N. institutions.
The Swiss Bankers Association has estimated that the assets of Russian clients deposited in Switzerland’s banks total 150-200 billion Swiss francs (about $155-$210 billion), making the country a key repository of Russian money abroad.
Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, has largely joined the bloc’s sanctions against Russia. The website of the Swiss federal economics department says that as of May 12, a total of 6.3 billion francs have been frozen in Switzerland in connection with Russia’s war in Ukraine.
In its call for transparency and better regulation in Switzerland, Public Eye said that “as a safe haven for oligarchs close to the Kremlin and as a trading hub for Russian oil, grain and coal, Switzerland bears a big political responsibility.”
The conference in lakeside Lugano brings together hundreds of representatives from government, advocacy groups, the private sector, academia and U.N. organizations — and scores of Ukrainian ministers, lawmakers, diplomats and others. It builds upon a multi-year, multi-country discussion about reform in Ukraine — even before the war began — but this time the focus is “recovery” from the war.
Environmental groups want to help Ukraine build back better. Lobby groups Solar Power Europe and Wind Europe, together with their Ukrainian counterparts, urged Ukraine to set a target of producing at least 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, bringing it in line with European Union targets.
According to the International Energy Agency, Ukraine generated less than 10% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2019, the last year for which data was published. Most of Ukraine’s electricity comes from nuclear power and burning coal.
A small group of Greenpeace activists staged a media stunt by pretending to set up a fake wind turbine on the banks of Lake Lugano, as part of a call with Ukrainian NGOs to support sustainable energy development in the country whose infrastructure has been widely damaged.
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