Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the international community to help fund Ukraine’s frozen reconstruction after the war and use Russian assets to compensate victims.
Borrowing words used to launch the reconstruction of Europe after the second world war under the Marshall Plan, Ukraine’s president said that his proposal to help cover a rebuild that looks set to cost more than $500bn was “designed to counter hunger, poverty, despair and chaos”.
Speaking by video link to a packed main conference hall at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Zelensky said: “I invite you to take part in this reconstruction. The work to be done is colossal. There are more than [$500bn] in losses. Tens of thousands of buildings have been destroyed.”
He suggested a “special, historically significant reconstruction model” under which separate countries, cities and companies would take leading roles in rebuilding specific cities and industries in Ukraine.
Russian assets in various jurisdictions “should be found, seized or frozen, and assigned to a special fund to compensate all the victims of the war”, he told business leaders and officials, adding that this would set a precedent that could be used around the world.
The US and Europe have frozen assets worth €300bn from the Russian central bank, but are yet to confiscate them. Ukraine’s officials accept that there are no internationally legal ways to confiscate frozen Russian assets as yet. But that has not stopped them pushing the moral arguments to such a move. “If the aggressor loses everything, then it deprives him of his motivation to start a war,” Zelensky said.
His comments echoed those of other Ukrainian representatives, who have come to the Swiss mountain resort with a disciplined and unified message on sanctions, the global impact of the conflict and rebuilding.
The president slammed the “brute force” by Russia in his country. He also claimed that “tens of thousands of lives” could have been saved if the west had given Ukraine all of the weaponry, political and financial support it needed as well as passing more sweeping sanctions against Russia when the invasion began in February. “Values must matter when global markets are being destabilised,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine, Zelensky said, needed “at least $5bn a month” in financing to survive Russia’s onslaught, separate from the even larger sums required to rebuild the country. US and European finance ministers met last week to discuss how to plug Ukraine’s short-term financing gap, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen acknowledging that existing commitments fell short. Western countries, led by Switzerland, have organized a conference in the summer to discuss the reconstruction of Ukraine’s cities, infrastructure and industry, but no proposals are yet on the table.
Zelensky called for tougher sanctions on Russia and for all foreign companies to leave the country. He added that Russian banks should be thrown out of the global financial system, all relations with Russian IT companies should cease, and no trade with Moscow should take place.
“[Sanctions] should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbor would clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions,” he said.
European countries are still arguing over an EU plan to ban the import of Russian oil. Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice-chancellor, told the forum on Monday that the world was “seeing the worst of Europe” in the debate over a ban on Russian oil. Some states, notably Hungary, are blocking the development.