What the Ukraine Recovery Conference is – and isn’t
Don’t imagine a recovery conference for Ukraine to be one big negotiation resulting in one significant document, an agreement to be signed by all attending nations and institutions. Don’t assume that, in the end, there are concrete projects to be pursued, bridges to be built, schools to be rehabilitated.
Yes, there are indeed conversations (many of them), even negotiations (many of them), also speeches (even more of them). There is a common goal, but there will not be a common product at the end.
Think of London’s Ukraine Recovery Conference 2023 (URC 2023) as a big political trade show. Everyone brings their latest shiny object to be introduced with great fanfare.
Is the exercise therefore useless, just marketing? Is it even cynical given all the suffering in Ukraine? No, not at all. If URC 2023 did not exist one would have to invent it. For it is at URC 2023 that the (Western) world comes together to reassure itself about its intention to rebuild Ukraine and its determination to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s waiting game; it is where the aid architecture is made fit for purpose and money—real money!—is pledged. Just think of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement of a €50 billion multi-year aid and investment package. That’s historic. Without precedent. Unheard of.
So, URC 2023 is the real deal. Just more complicated and more decentralized, more like the real world than one would wish for.
URC 2023 is also a market of ideas. Just think of the vision, peddled by a member of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s inner circle at a reception, to turn Ukraine into the world’s first cash-free country to make corruption harder. Or the idea by an investor to allow Ukraine to issue recovery bonds, fed by Russia’s frozen public assets. Is either of these ideas going to be a reality tomorrow? Maybe not. There are a few legal and practical hurdles. But what better place to discuss and weigh such ideas than at such a conference. Some ideas will eventually make it into the real world of reconstruction.