zelensky defends slow progress saying counteroffensive is not a hollywood movie
President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on Wednesday that there was economic opportunity in the ruins in his country.Pool photo by Leah Millis

LONDON — Western countries pledged tens of billions of dollars in new financial aid on Wednesday to rebuild war-torn Ukraine, at a two-day conference of donors convened by the British government in the shadow of Kyiv’s counteroffensive against Russia.

The pledges — rolled out by Britain, the United States and the European Union — sought to shift public attention, for the moment, from the battlefield to the yearslong reconstruction of Ukraine that will follow the war. Economists estimate that the rebuilding project could cost anywhere from $400 billion to $1 trillion.

The conference also put a spotlight on the potential for using confiscated Russian assets to underwrite the cost of reconstruction — a legally tricky proposition that is nevertheless gaining traction in the West. Britain and the European Union are exploring ways to divert these assets, estimated to be worth at least $300 billion.

“As we’ve seen in Bakhmut and Mariupol, what Russia cannot take it will seek to destroy,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain said in opening the conference. “They want to do the same to Ukraine’s economy.”

Speaking to the participants by video link, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine argued that there was economic opportunity in the ruins of his country. He thanked the donors but pleaded with them to start investing now. “We must move from vision to agreements, and from agreements to real projects,” he said.

Britain announced a package that includes 240 million pounds ($305 million) of additional direct economic assistance and $3 billion in World Bank loan guarantees. The loans are intended to encourage an influx of new private investment to rebuild Ukrainian cities and towns destroyed by Russian troops.

Ukraine has sustained widespread destruction as a result of the Russian invasion, which started in February of last year.Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

The European Union laid out an ambitious package that would include 50 billion euros (about $55 billion) in assistance from 2024 to 2027. About €17 billion would come in grants, and the rest in the form of low-interest loans. The package must be approved by all 27 members of the bloc, however, and it may face hurdles.

“This plan could become an anchor for all international donors,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. “This is what I mean when I say we are with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

The United States announced $1.3 billion in additional economic aid, roughly split between funds to overhaul Ukraine’s heavily damaged energy infrastructure and to modernize ports, railways and border crossings.

“As Russia continues to destroy, we are here to help Ukraine rebuild,” said Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, noting that the package had bipartisan support in Congress. “Recovery is about laying the foundation for Ukraine to thrive.”

The United States has delivered more than $20 billion in economic development assistance to Ukraine, Mr. Blinken said, as well as $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid. It is also the largest provider of military aid to the Ukrainian Army.

Britain, which is likewise one of Ukraine’s largest providers of military aid, is leveraging London’s status as a global center of finance and insurance to stimulate foreign investment, in part by trying to reduce the risks to investors. The $3 billion in loan guarantees extends over three years, Mr. Sunak said, and is backed by more than 400 companies from 38 countries, including Virgin, Sanofi, Phillips and Hyundai Engineering.

Although fighting is still raging across southern and eastern Ukraine, analysts said it was important to start planning the postwar rebuilding process, to avoid the kind of delays that dogged the reconstruction of Europe after World War II.

“Without any kind of planning, these delays can mount, and they can lead to human misery and to failure of economies and to basically foreign policy failures,” Howard Shatz, a senior economist at RAND Corporation, told reporters last week. “So it is important to start planning now.”

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