Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February, talks of support for Kyiv have largely centered around weapons and ammunition. But Washington is also sending large amounts of money to fund Ukrainian government operations, U.S. officials said this week, as U.S. and European officials affirmed support for Ukraine’s reconstruction, following the conclusion of the recent Lugano Conference.
The United States is “proud to be the largest single country donor to Ukraine” and will be delivering “billions more of assistance” in the coming months, announced Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, at an event in Washington on Thursday. Those sums include “billions in needed direct budget assistance,” she said.
Washington has provided $2.3 billion in direct budget support to the government of Ukraine since Moscow launched its attack, a State Department representative told VOA, adding that the support is channeled through World Bank mechanisms. Kyiv received “two tranches of $500 million each on April 29 and May 20, and $1.3 billion on June 29,” the representative said.
The government of Ukraine is using the money to pay government salaries, meet pension obligations, maintain hospitals and schools, and protect critical infrastructure, the State Department representative said.
The Biden administration intends to work with Congress to provide Kyiv with an additional $6.2 billion in direct budget support over the next five months, drawing from funds set aside in the second supplemental bill signed by President Joe Biden on May 21, the representative told VOA.
In addition, the administration is devoting about $1 billion from the first and second Ukraine supplemental appropriations to support the Ukrainian government’s continuity of operations at the national, regional and local levels, support for the health sector, agricultural production, civil society, programs to hold Russia and its forces accountable for their actions in Ukraine.
Thursday’s event where Donfried spoke was co-hosted by the Swiss and Ukrainian Embassies in Washington, marking the conclusion of the Lugano Conference, co-hosted by Switzerland and Ukraine July 4-5 in the southern Swiss town. The conference focused on the rebuilding of Ukraine and drew nearly 60 official delegations, along with representatives from the private sector and civil society.
Jacques Pitteloud, Swiss ambassador to the United States, shared with the audience gathered at the Ukraine House on Thursday that the state of ongoing war had prompted some to question whether now is the time to talk about reconstruction.
“At the conference in Lugano, there was some debate about whether it makes sense to even speak about recovery and reconstruction while the war is still raging; ‘Is it not premature to make plans for recovery before the guns fall silent?’”
The Swiss government’s answer to that question, Pitteloud said, is “an emphatic no,” and he gave the reasons.
“First, recovery is a complex and very long-term endeavor, which demands proactive, farsighted planning and a solid framework for the long haul, launching this process now is the responsible thing to do,” Pitteloud said.
“Secondly, thanks to the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian defenders, the aggressor has actually retreated from large parts of Ukraine; but these areas have been ravaged and everything needs to be rebuilt.”
The prospect of “the aggression against Ukraine” dragging on also beckons Ukraine’s allies and partners to dig in and strengthen the country’s overall and enduring resilience, Pitteloud added.
Switzerland’s firm support for “reconstruction now” echoes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call for immediate support from the international community for his country’s rebuilding. To wait until after the war ends is a mistake, Zelenskyy has said. The Ukrainian leader also cast the rebuilding of Ukraine as a process in tandem with his country’s quest to become a full-fledged member of the European Union.
On July 1, Zelenskyy attended a ceremony that saw the EU flag hoisted in the Ukrainian parliament alongside the Ukrainian flag, as a reminder of both the nation’s aspirations and the tasks at hand to fulfill those aspirations, he said, urging Ukrainian officials at all levels to work nonstop toward the goal of joining the EU.
The United States is fully supportive of Ukraine’s EU aspirations, Donfried said at Thursday’s event in Washington. While the challenges are great, “we have an opportunity to help lead the country toward the European future that the Ukrainians want and deserved and are working so hard to achieve,” she said.
The EU’s top diplomat in Washington, Stavros Lambrinidis, who attended Thursday’s event along with top diplomats from EU member states, said the EU “has a direct, immediate responsibility and interest” in Ukraine’s reconstruction because of the country’s candidate member-state status.
The path to a strong Ukraine and the path to Ukrainian integration into the EU family is “one and the same thing,” he said.
Although Switzerland so far has opted out of membership in the EU, Pitteloud, the Swiss ambassador, said his country is ready to help Ukraine achieve the goal of EU membership, in an interview with VOA on the sidelines of the event.
Spain, a member of the EU, doesn’t have “billions” to spare, but will “do what we can” to support Ukraine, Santiago Cabanas, the top diplomat from Madrid in Washington, told VOA. “Because, as the EU ambassador to the U.S. said, we see Ukraine as a member of the European family.”
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s top diplomat in Washington, said her countrymen have “inspired the world with how we fight.” Next, she said, “we want to inspire the world with how we build [our country].”