Reviews | Rebuilding Ukraine after the war is vital for the West

A building in Donetsk damaged by a Russian attack on October 9.  (Carl Court/Getty Images)
A building in Donetsk damaged by a Russian attack on October 9. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

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Beyond Ukraine’s recent astonishing successes on the battlefield, eight months of war have left the country a physical, financial and economic basket case. Millions of refugees have fled, the country’s gross domestic product has shrunk by about a third, and the government, whose budget has been depleted by war, is running monthly deficits of $4 billion or more – mostly funded by Western subsidies, a lifeline for teachers, pensioners living on pensions and millions more.

Even if Russia pulled out now, Ukraine would remain weakened for years. Before Russian President Vladimir Putin rained missiles on Ukraine’s power plants and other facilities this month, the cost of repairing damage to the country’s critical infrastructure had already been estimated at nearly $200 billion. , according to a study by the Kyiv School of Economics. And that’s just a fraction of the total wreckage caused by Moscow’s indiscriminate attacks.

Rebuilding the country, among the largest in Europe by population and area, will be a generational undertaking. “It’s not every day that you rebuild a whole country,” said Vlad Rashkovan, a former deputy governor of Ukraine’s central bank who now represents the country on the board of the International Monetary Fund.

One question – the $1 trillion question, as some economists estimate – is who will pay for it. The United States and Europe, as well as international banks and development institutions, must assume leading and shared roles.

For Ukraine to succeed, it also needs to be reformed and broadly reinvented as a viable candidate for European Union membership that can wield the influence necessary to effect those reforms. This means that rebuilding Ukraine will depend on more than money and concrete, although heroic amounts of both will be needed. Ultimately, its fate will hinge on a transformation of mindset and governance in a nation notorious for its oligarchs and rampant corruption. Before the filming even stops, the country must launch a sustainable, foolproof and transparent project to transform ministries, markets, courts, businesses and institutions, raising them to democratic and free market standards. Western.

Easier said than done, of course. Pre-war Ukraine aspired to join the EU, in the sense that a C student aspires to gain admission into the Ivy League. Transparency International ranks it third among the most corrupt countries in Europe, behind Russia and Azerbaijan. When a leading proponent of reform in Ukraine was recently asked how corruption is faring in the country after months of war, he replied curtly: “The good thing is that there is no silver.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, rightly considered an inspirational warlord, has been ineffectual at best in his first three years in office in curbing corruption, the very promise that got him elected in 2019. His second prime minister, sacked in 2020, said Mr Zelensky fired him because the government’s own anti-corruption efforts threatened wealthy power operatives close to the president. Hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds and foreign aid have been embezzled in recent years by oligarchs, who have used several thousand Ukrainian state-owned companies as ATMs, with the connivance of the government.

Reforms must begin even as reconstruction and humanitarian efforts accelerate in the devastated towns and cities from which Russian troops have withdrawn. They are essential not only to launch Ukraine on what will be a long road to EU membership – an exceptionally rigorous process – but also to signal to Western governments and multilateral institutions that their aid dollars will not be not washed away by oligarchs and kleptocrats.

Ukraine has begun an impressive reconstruction planning effort – thousands of officials and multiple task forces are drawing up plans to rebuild housing, roads, transportation hubs, factories, communications towers and systems. water and sewage. Its own full-throttle press should be accompanied by an increased international focus on Ukraine’s long-term needs, even as the West rushes in funds, arms and materiel to help wage an existential war against Russia.

Western leaders cannot drag their feet over who will oversee and coordinate the hundreds of billions of dollars that will be needed over time. Among the plausible candidates are the Group of Seven, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the EU itself. Someone has to be in charge, and soon. A good place to start on this issue is Berlin, where an international conference on Ukraine’s reconstruction is scheduled for Tuesday.

At the same time, Ukraine should be aware that Western aid will be heavily conditioned and that the tsunami of grants and subsidized loans hoped for by officials in Kyiv should gradually intensify. This will disappoint some Ukrainians. But it is realistic, given the political and economic pressures in donor countries struggling with energy inflation, nationalism and war fatigue. Pledges for reconstruction in Afghanistan have so far fallen short of the UN target. The EU’s own pledge earlier this year of 9 billion euros to fill Ukraine’s monthly budget shortfalls has so far yielded only a fraction of that amount.

The Ukrainians understandably want the reconstruction project to tap into Russian assets that have been frozen by the West, including $300 billion in Russian Central Bank deposits. No doubt: Moscow should pay war reparations. But legal, financial and political obstacles stand in the way. Even if some Russian assets can be seized or extracted through negotiations to help Ukraine rebuild, it will likely take years.

Other movements can and should happen faster. The West is already sending large aid packages to solve immediate problems beyond the battlefields. In August, the State Department announced an $89 million grant to help deactivate hundreds of thousands of Russian mines scattered over an area larger than Virginia and Maryland combined.

Another key measure is to create an insurance fund, backed by international financial institutions, to promote private sector investment. Without this, companies are unlikely to be able to insure the projects they are considering in Ukraine. Companies generally act faster than international donors; they are essential for creating wealth in a post-war Ukraine.

It is in the vital interest of the West not only to defeat a bloody invasion, but also to fix Ukraine in the long term. Since the Soviet collapse three decades ago liberated Ukraine as an independent country, its anemic institutions, deep-rooted corruption and poor governance have been promoted and exploited by Moscow. The result was a cataclysm.

The best solution now is to revamp Europe’s security architecture, ensuring that Ukraine is reborn as a dynamic and fully modern country – a bulwark against an eastern neighbor that may remain brutal for the foreseeable future.

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Editorials represent the opinions of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined by debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

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