Ukraine calls for Russian oligarch assets to be used to fund $750bn reconstruction

Plea comes as 40 countries and organisations agree seven principles for reconstruction spending

Ukraine has said its estimated $750 billion postwar reconstruction bill could be underwritten by repurposing frozen and seized Russian oligarch assets.

The plea came as 40 countries and international organisations agreed seven principles for reconstruction spending — including a commitment to democratic values and fundamental rights as well as transparency in government and an active anti-corruption stance.

Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal said Russia “should be held accountable for this massive destruction” and flagged frozen Russian assets worldwide worth up to $500 million (€488 million).

“We believe that the key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he told the conference in the Swiss city of Lugano.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy described rebuilding his country as “a great contribution to global peace” and the “joint task of the whole democratic world”.

“Russia’s war against Ukraine is not only an attempt to seize our land and destroy state institutions, to break our independence — it is a worldview confrontation,” he said via video link. “The anti-democratic and anti-European system built in Russia is trying to prove that it is supposedly stronger than all of us: Ukraine, Europe and the democratic world.”

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and with Russian troops tightening control over eastern regions, the long-planned Lugano gathering was repurposed as a recovery conference.

The event’s Swiss organisers conceded on Tuesday that this is a “massive task and poses challenges of a magnitude that cannot be precisely measured at this point”.

Swiss president Ignazio Cassis told attendees that the Lugano agreement was only the start of a “long process”.

“But there is a sharp contrast between the tragic images from Ukraine that we see on the news every day and those from this conference,” he said. Linking aid to ongoing reforms, he hoped Ukraine’s allies would “ensure more than just the reconstruction of a battered country’s infrastructure and the restoration of its people’s livelihoods”.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the conference that EU members, having backed candidate status for Ukraine, had a “special responsibility and a strategic interest” in its reconstruction.

Noting that the EU had already made €6.2 billion available to Ukraine since February, she promised a reconstruction platform for state and institutional actors to map investment needs, co-ordinate action and channel resources.

“Through the reconstruction platform, the European Commission can offer its extensive expertise in running programmes that combine reform and investments,” Dr von der Leyen said.

Grass-roots funding of Ukraine’s war effort is gathering momentum.

Lithuania’s defence minister has taken delivery of a €6 million combat drone, after the money to buy it was raised in days last month through a crowd-funding campaign.

Turkish manufacturer Baykar said it had heard about the campaign and would donate its drone for free, with €1 million of the crowd-sourced money now being spent on ammunition and the rest on humanitarian aid.

Poles have started a similar campaign, with a quarter of the money needed to purchase a drone raised by Tuesday.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin