Countries pledge $1 billion in aid to Ukraine

PARIS — World leaders on Tuesday announced more than $1 billion in rapid assistance to Ukraine to repair vital infrastructure and survive what is already a brutal winter, in a meeting remarkable for both the scale of the nations involved than by the scale of their commitments.

The rally in Paris stretched far beyond the governments of North America, Europe and East Asia who have been the mainstay of efforts to support the military, economy, government and people of Ukraine. It included representatives from around 50 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Cambodia, India and Indonesia, as well as a number of multinational organizations.

Participants pledged money and materials to help repair Ukraine’s electricity, heating, water, healthcare and transport systems over the next few months, all destroyed by months of attacks Russians.

“This is tangible proof that Ukraine is not alone,” French President Emmanuel Macron said as he opened the one-day summit, flanked by Denys Shmyhal, Ukrainian Prime Minister, and Olena Zelenska, First Ukrainian lady.

“The fight you are waging is a fight for your freedom, your sovereignty,” Macron said. “But it’s also a fight for the international order and for the stability of all of us.”

Over the past two months, Russia has redirected much of its war effort to launching thousands of missiles and drones at critical civilian infrastructure around Ukraine. With its army stumbling badly on the battlefield, the Kremlin seems determined to force Ukraine to capitulate by rendering much of the country unlivable. Every day, millions of Ukrainians have no electricity or heat, millions more suffer power outages, some have no running water, and many of the hospitals, roads and railways they depend on have been damaged or destroyed.

All heating and hydropower plants in Ukraine and much of the country’s power grid was damaged, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, addressing the meeting from Ukraine via video feed. Technicians worked at a breakneck pace to make the repairs, but couldn’t keep up.

He said reversing the massive damage to his country’s energy infrastructure alone would cost at least 800 million euros, or about $840 million. He warned that Russia risked “escalating its attacks” over the winter and repeated calls for Ukraine’s allies to provide more air defense weapons, in addition to financial assistance.

“If you help us,” Mr. Zelensky said, “it can prevent a huge wave of new refugees from arriving in your countries.”

Since the Russian invasion in February, millions of Ukrainians have transferred to neighboring countries who are also grappling with record inflation rates caused in part by war.

The Paris conference, convened by Mr. Macron, was part of a series of recent international meetings focused on the survival and reconstruction of Ukraine, whose economy has shrunk considerably during nearly 10 months of war, as her needs exploded.

On Wednesday, European Union finance ministers are expected to approve about $19 billion in loans to the cash-strapped Kyiv government. And on Monday, leaders of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies agreed to create a new system for nations supporting Kyiv to work together to coordinate civilian aid, similar to the existing system for providing military assistance.

What made Tuesday’s meeting and announcements different, organizers said, was the schedule and a list of attendees that far exceeded the usual donors. The aid will be delivered by the end of March, responding to a criticism that delivery of previous aid pledges had been too slow.

Mr. Macron also announced the creation of the “Paris Mechanism”, an online platform allowing Ukraine to communicate its urgent needs and donor countries to respond quickly. Warehouses have already been set up in Poland and several neighboring countries to collect donations such as generators, heat pumps, light bulbs and even fire engines, which can be quickly transported to devastated Ukrainian cities.

Organizers did not say whether all of the countries present made donations, and if not, which ones did or how much they pledged. But a few made their own announcements.

Mr. Macron has committed 76.5 million euros, more than $81 million, in immediate aid from France, in addition to the 48.5 million euros already pledged. The Swiss parliament approved the immediate payment of 100 million Swiss francs, or about $107 million, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said. Canada has committed C$115 million, or about $85 million, specifically for Ukraine’s energy system.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has pledged 4 million euros in immediate aid, noting that while Europeans fear lowering thermostats a degree or two in response to the war-induced energy crisis, Ukrainians are living in bombed buildings. “I’m not the biggest at the table,” he said. “But you can count on us. We are with you.”

Catherine Colonna, France’s foreign minister, said more than $440 million of the aid would be allocated to repairing the electricity system, with smaller amounts earmarked for other needs.

“Thanks to things like today’s conference, we will have more and more partners who will support us,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal. “We see how alone the attacker is.”

Although some may question the wisdom of rebuilding destroyed infrastructure even as Russian missiles continue to fall, Mr Zelensky reminded everyone that millions of Ukrainians continue to live and work in the country – in hospitals , houses, shops, schools and offices in ruins, often using generators – even as the bombs fall. The Ukrainian army also retook dozens of towns and villages that had been occupied by the Russians, often finding them devastated.

“Whenever a territory is liberated by Ukraine, we must rebuild it as soon as possible,” Macron said.

But these donations represent only a small fraction of what will be needed to rebuild Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have called for a three-phase plan, starting with the kind of short-term infrastructure repairs discussed on Tuesday.

A second phase would focus on the sustainable reconstruction of thousands of post-war damaged apartment buildings, homes, roads, schools and other structures. The third would focus more on modernizing Ukraine’s main export-oriented industries, from agriculture to steel, to European standards as the country prepares for hoped-for European Union membership.

Kyiv said the effort would require at least $750 billion in investment, while the World Bank put the reconstruction estimate at more than $349 billion.

Either way, the sum is staggering, and the prospect of an avalanche of contracts has governments and hundreds of international companies rushing to help Ukraine now, hoping to renew deals when the longer-term reconstruction will begin in earnest. Companies from the United States, Germany, Denmark, Poland and elsewhere are already flocking to position themselves for the reconstruction work.

France is no exception: after the morning multilateral meeting, Ukrainian ministers spent the afternoon with representatives of around 700 French companies to discuss reconstruction in the areas of infrastructure, energy, agriculture, digital innovation and health.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said contracts worth 100 million euros to rebuild bridges, pave roads with cement and sow Ukrainian farms were awarded at the conference on Tuesday to three French companies, adding that these agreements were only the tip of the iceberg. . However, given the risks involved, France and other governments plan to offer state guarantees to companies carrying out future work in Ukraine.

For Mr. Macron, this long-planned event was an opportunity to demonstrate European leadership in supporting Ukraine and to ease tensions with the Ukrainian government. Officials in Kyiv were wary of the French president’s insistence on continued dialogue with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, and were angered by Mr. Macron’s recent statement that an “essential point” of any talks of peace should be how to provide security guarantees to Mr. Putin’s Russia.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron said: “It is up to Ukraine, the victim of its aggression, to decide on the conditions for a just and lasting peace”.

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