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Ukraine and allies lay foundations for reconstruction at Swiss conference

Allies of Ukraine meeting in Switzerland were due Tuesday to adopt a declaration spelling out the principles and priorities of rebuilding the war-shattered country, estimated to cost at least $750 billion.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen as he delivers a statement at the start of a two-day International conference on reconstruction of Ukraine, in Lugano on July 4, 2022. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a giant screen as he delivers a statement at the start of a two-day International conference on reconstruction of Ukraine, in Lugano on July 4, 2022. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organisations and businesses have been meeting in the southern Swiss city of Lugano under tight security since Monday, discussing the best path forward for reconstruction, even as Russia’s war continues to rage in Ukraine.

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Speaking on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a long line of government ministers described the massive destruction caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion.

“Reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local task of a single nation,” Zelensky said via video message. “It is a common task of the whole democratic world,” he said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the recovery “is already estimated at $750 billion”. “The key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs,” he said.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction, and they should be held accountable for it”.

READ MORE: Switzerland extends sanctions against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The conference, which had been planned before the invasion, had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed to focus on recovery.

Shmyhal laid out the government’s phased reconstruction plan, focused first on the immediate needs of those affected by the war, followed by the financing of thousands of longer-term reconstruction projects aimed at making Ukraine European, green and digital.

Those priorities are expected to be reflected in a final Lugano Declaration setting out the general principles defining a framework for rebuilding Ukraine, which should be adopted when the conference wraps up around midday Tuesday.

As billions of dollars in aid flow into Ukraine, lingering concerns about widespread corruption in the country mean far-reaching reforms will also be seen as a condition for any recovery plan decided.

The former Soviet state has long been ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International.

In Europe, only Russia and Azerbaijan ranked worse.

The Ukrainians have proposed that allied countries “adopt” specific regions of Ukraine, and lead the recovery there to render it more efficient. Britain has proposed taking on the Kyiv region, while a diplomatic source said France would concentrate on the heavily-hit Chernihiv region.

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In all, around 1,000 people are attending the conference, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who let out an enthusiastic “Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) after insisting on the importance of rebuilding a Ukraine better than before the war.

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ENERGY

Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

There has been much talk lately about how electricity shortages would impact Switzerland’s essential infrastructure, including access to emergency services. This is how some cantons are preparing for this ‘worst-case’ scenario.

Power outage: Swiss cantons set up plans for emergency services

Though Switzerland buys most of its natural gas through various European distribution channels, almost half of the country’s supply — an estimated 47 percent — is of Russian origin. 

As gas is used to generate electricity, it is no wonder that Swiss authorities are worried about what would happen to essential services if the power goes out.

“We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland. In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us”, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said during a press conference in June.

She added that “the energy crisis could hit us hard. That’s why we are concerned about preparing for emergencies.”

READ MORE: ‘It could hit us hard’: Switzerland prepares for impending gas shortage

When the power goes out, telephone service for fixed lines does too. While mobile phones will continue to work for as long as their batteries are charged, they too will ‘die’ if electricity is cut for an extended period of time.

For instance, Swisscom’s current backup power supply “consists of one hour of autonomy on all networks”.

This means that emergency calls for ambulances, police, and fire services will no longer be possible after this timeframe.

Emergency plans

However, some cantons have made contingency plans to manage such crises by setting up the so-called “emergency meeting points” — specially designated areas where residents could drive or walk to if they needed help quickly.

According to Diego Ochsner, head of the Office for Military Affairs and Civil Protection in the canton of Solothurn, these meeting points “are equipped with a Polycom device and an emergency power supply”, allowing unfettered communication with emergency services.

Polycom is a secure radio network used by authorities in crisis situations.

Most of these points are set up in community halls, schools, and sports facilities. You can find your nearest emergency point here.

However, while meeting points exist in a number of cantons — including Bern, St. Gallen, Aargau, Nidwalden, Lucerne, Schaffhausen, Zurich, and Zug — they are lacking in other regions, especially in the French-speaking part of the country.

READ MORE: MAP: Which Swiss cities will be most impacted by a gas shortage this winter?

“From our point of view, the ideal would be for more cantons to set up these points and for the federal government to take charge”, Ochsner said. “Unfortunately, we are still a long way from that.”

The government has not gotten involved in establishing more meeting points because it considers this task to be a cantonal, rather than a federal matter.

What should you do if you live in cantons that don’t provide this service?

The best approach is to inform yourself as soon as possible about the logistics your community has in place for reaching emergency services in case of a power outage.

You can obtain this information from your local civil protection office, which is usually listed on the official website of your canton.

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