US seeks focus on ‘urgent’ needs of Ukraine at Swiss meeting
LUGANO, Switzerland (AP) — A top U.S. diplomat on Tuesday urged allies of Ukraine to help the war-battered country meet its “immediate and urgent” needs — not only longer-term rebuilding — as scores of countries wrapped up a two-day conference aimed at helping Ukraine recover from Russia’s war, when it ends one day.
Scott Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, added a dose of urgency to the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, at which the Ukrainian prime minister a day earlier presented a $750 billion plan to help his country both recover now — where possible — as well as in the immediate aftermath of the war and over the long term.
Many attendees pointed out that efforts were likely to take many years, and rebuilding would need to take place in several phases. Some called for support for Ukraine along the lines of the U.S. Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II — hinting of a big long-term project.
“While we recognize the importance of preparing for Ukraine’s future, all of us must also deliver on our commitments to provide Ukraine its immediate and urgent needs,” said Miller, one of many government envoys who decried Russia’s war and detailed their support for Ukraine.
Some, however, cautioned that quick fixes were unlikely.
“I really understand that we want to be ready overnight — to start tomorrow,” Swiss President Ignazio Cassis told reporters. “But we clearly declare: It is the first step of a long journey.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, flanked by Cassis, cautioned that his government would carefully select immediate projects for rebuilding places like schools, hospitals and other infrastructure as the war rages on because Russian forces could simply “destroy it again.”
“It will be an unfinished process,” Shmyhal said, alluding to a broader “fast recovery” in a second phase. “So we should wait for the finish of war actions, and then begin this fast recovery.”
He voiced hopes to lock down and utilize an estimated $300 billion to $500 billion in Russian-owned assets that have been frozen in many Western banks to help pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction. Such money could complement cash from Ukraine’s own — heavily strained —budget, as well as support from allies abroad.
“It’s very important for the civilized world to give the signal to Russia, as aggressor — and to other potential aggressors in the future — to understand that unprovoked aggression should be paid by this aggressor,” he said. “Russia should pay for this” recovery, he added.
Cassis, however, pointed to the legal complexities of such an undertaking to wrest such Russian funds, saying “the right of property is a fundamental right — is a human right.” Switzerland has frozen 6.3 billion Swiss francs (about $6.5 billion) in Russian assets, while the Swiss Bankers Association estimates 150-200 billion francs worth of total Russian-owned assets are held in Swiss financial institutions.
The Swiss leader said fundamental rights can at times be violated — as was done in some cases during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — “but we have to create the legal base” for such moves first.
“You have to ensure the citizen that is protected against the power of the state,” Cassis said.
A final document dubbed as the “Lugano Declaration” laid out goals to help Ukraine build back better — which it comes to government transparency, respect for the environment, and fighting corruption that has plagued the country since it split from Russia after the end of the Soviet Union three decades ago.
Many said the European Union’s plan to take in Ukraine as a member one day could help underpin that reform process.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine