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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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UKRAINE

Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

Switzerland, a key refiner and manufacturer of gold bars, is banning imports of the precious metal from Russia, the government said Wednesday.

Switzerland bans imports of Russian gold

The central government aligned itself with EU sanctions which, on July 21, added a ban on gold imports of Russian origin to the list of restrictions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ban came into effect at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Federal Council said in a statement.

Under the new sanctions, Switzerland forbids “buying, importing or transporting gold and gold products from Russia”, the statement said, adding that “services in connection with these goods are also prohibited”.

Traditionally neutral, Switzerland broke with its usual stance in the days after the start of the war in Ukraine by aligning itself with European Union economic sanctions.

In May, three tons of gold from Russia were imported from Britain, but it was not clear which company was responsible for bringing it to Switzerland, Bloomberg News reported.

The Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders in Precious Metals (ASFCMP), which represents the country’s largest refineries, contacted its members and said none of them were responsible for the imports.

The association insisted that “doubtful gold” had “no place in Switzerland” and urged its members to act “with the utmost caution”.

Swiss customs said at the time they were examining the imports in light of the sanctions, but insisted that gold imports from Russia were not banned.

While gold exports were already subject to sanctions, imports were not banned under the sanctions order, customs officials said.

The fourth package of sanctions imposed by the EU included luxury goods, banning the sale, supply, transfer or export of luxury goods to Russia, including gold, silver, pearls and diamonds.

But on July 21, the EU also explicitly added a ban on importing gold from Russia, including in the form of powder, debris or gold coins.

Switzerland has several refineries to recycle gold and melt ingots.

The sector employs 1,500 people, according to ASFCMP.

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