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Switzerland unveils July reconstruction conference for Ukraine

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Swiss President Ignazio Cassis reveals the Ukraine Recovery Conference during the WEF in Davos, on May 24, 2022.

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DAVOS (AFP) – Switzerland has invited leaders from scores of countries and international organisations to a July conference on rebuilding Ukraine, President Ignazio Cassis told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday (May 24).

As well as pledging funds for reconstruction, “the conference will be about reforms that can still be implemented in the present situation” of continued fighting against the Russian invasion that began on Feb 24, Mr Cassis told reporters.

“Given how long the road will be… we can’t start soon enough,” he said. “I can imagine that it might take some years before the international community decides on such a big investment.”

Scheduled for July 4 and 5 in Lugano, near the Italian border, the conference had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed for war reconstruction.

“We are ready for reconstruction even now, because we liberated some territories and we need to bring life back to those territories,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who arrived late due to bad weather.

Mr Cassis said he and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had asked around 40 world leaders and chiefs of 18 international organisations to attend the high-level talks.

Speaking by video link via an interpreter, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said Kyiv would use any money raised “to rebuild our country with leading institutions, the International Monetary Fund and also the World Bank and the European fund of solidarity with Ukraine”.

But details of the conference’s aims remain sketchy, with no consensus so far on how much cash might be needed to make good the war damage.

Russia had “hit the hospitals, residential facilities, they destroyed roads, grain depots, communal infrastructure, they do everything possible that life in Ukraine would be impossible,” Mr Shmygal said.

He added that “total economic losses in Ukraine are estimated to be more than US$600 billion (S$822.90 billion)”.

But Mr Cassis criticised “fantasy figures” for the damage that he said had been circulating in media reports.

“An important foundation at the beginning of this path must be a proper assessment of (Ukraine’s) needs, according to all scientific criteria,” he said.

He said it would not be enough to simply pour money into the country.

“There is a danger that this money ends up in the wrong hands,” Mr Cassis said, urging “continuous auditing of the donated funds”.

“Please do not exaggerate the problem of wrong hands in Ukraine,” Mr Kuleba told journalists later.

“If we were as corrupt as some people like to say, our country would have failed in the first three days as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin initially planned, because the system would have been corrupt, the people would not have been willing to defend it.”

Mr Cassis was also unable to say whether frozen assets belonging to the Russian state could one day go towards rebuilding Ukraine.

“This is a global question, and Switzerland will give its response at the appropriate time,” he said.

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