LONDON – Ukraine’s allies pledged several billion dollars in non-military aid on Wednesday to rebuild the country's war-ravaged infrastructure, fight corruption and help pave the country's road to membership in the European Union.
Stressing the vast scale of the task, diplomats and political leaders at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London urged private-sector companies to invest and revive an economy battered by almost 16 months of war.
Delegates from more than 60 countries attended the conference, which was both a fundraising forum and a message to Russia that Ukraine’s Western supporters are in it for the long haul.
The World Bank has estimated the cost of the invaded nation's reconstruction at more than $400 billion, a figure rising daily alongside the human toll of Russia's aggression. Politicians from Europe and the U.S. vowed that Russia would one day be made to pay for the destruction, though officials acknowledged that day is some way off.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would give more than $1.3 billion in new aid, including more than $500 million to restore and improve Ukraine's battered energy grid.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced 50 billion euros ($55 billion) in support through 2027, while Britain pledged 240 million pounds ($305 million) in aid and 3 billion pounds ($3.8 billion) in World Bank loan guarantees for Ukraine. Germany announced 381 million euros ($416 million) in humanitarian aid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed delegates by video, said his country needed action, not just pledges.
“We must move from vision to agreements and from agreements to real projects," he said.
Zelenskyy, who is pushing for Ukraine's membership in NATO and the European Union, urged Western leaders to have the “courage” to acknowledge that his country already was part of their economic and defense alliances.
“We are only waiting for the courage of the alliance leaders to recognize this reality, politically," he said.
NATO leaders are expected to endorse Ukraine's membership aspiration at a summit next month, but the alliance is wary of admitting the country while the war with Russia is raging.
Britain said Wednesday it would support removing an obstacle to Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership by waiving a a “membership action plan,” which sets out reforms candidate nations must make before they can join the alliance. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland were offered NATO membership without submitting such plans.
U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said “many of the requirements of the membership action plan are actually being delivered” by Ukraine, including armed forces reform.
“I think the U.K.’s position will be very, very supportive if we moved on from the membership action plan,” Cleverly told reporters.
On the issue of Ukraine joining the 27-nation EU, von der Leyen said “I have no doubt that Ukraine will be part of our union" but stressed the country must still meet conditions such as reducing corruption and reforming the judiciary before it can start accession talks.
Such reforms would send "a powerful message” to investors that they will get the “transparency, fairness and the functioning institutions they need to invest in Ukraine,” von der Leyen said.
Blinken also highlighted the importance of anti-corruption efforts by Ukraine, a country long plagued by graft. He said some of the pledged U.S. money would go toward upgrading ports and border infrastructure and digitizing customs procedures to curb rule-breaking
“The goal is to rebuild a Ukraine that is fit for (the) EU,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, whose country will host another recovery conference next year, said.
At last year’s recovery conference in Switzerland, Ukraine called for billions in Russian assets frozen by Western countries since the invasion to be used for Ukraine’s recovery.
That is under discussion in several countries, and getting international agreement on a precedent-setting reparations move could prove tricky. Britain took a step in that direction this week, extending sanctions on Russia so that funds can be kept frozen until Ukraine gets compensation for the invasion.
Cleverly said the U.K. would “explore all legal paths, both domestically and internationally,” to make Russia pay for the destruction it had caused.
Blinken said the principle was clear: “Russia is causing Ukraine’s destruction, and Russia will eventually bear the cost of Ukraine’s reconstruction.”
Many say Ukraine needs the equivalent of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. Russian attacks had decimated its infrastructure even before an explosion collapsed the Kakhovka dam this month, flooding some 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of land and displacing thousands of people.
The London conference aims to harness private-sector investment. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said BT, Virgin, Philips and Hyundai Engineering were among more than 400 companies from 38 countries that have committed to invest in Ukraine.
Ukraine is a “huge investment opportunity” despite the mounting destruction from Russian attacks, Sunak said.
“In fact, the war has only proved how much Ukraine has to offer,” the prime minister said, citing Ukraine's tech sector, which had its best-ever year in 2022.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine, one of the world's major grain producers, threatened a global food crisis that was eased by a deal that lets Ukraine export grain through the Black Sea.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for restoration, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said the country was in talks with the U.N. and deal broker Turkey but “not optimistic” that Russia will agree to extend the agreement beyond next month.
“What we see is that even (though) the corridors exist for the moment, till the 17th of July, but since the beginning of May the efficiency of the corridor decreased up to 20%,” Kubrakov told reporters.
“We are doing our best in order to maintain this initiative, this corridor, because for us it’s critical. It’s not only for us critical -- for global food security it’s one of the key questions,” he said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine