Michal SZCZERBA (Poland)

08 October 2023

Ukraine’s reconstruction will not simply be essential for Ukraine. It will, in fact, be critical to reinforcing Europe’s security architecture and its democratic way of life. Indeed, European peace, security and economic vitality ultimately require a sovereign, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine that has reclaimed its territories and is safely ensconced within Euro-Atlantic security and economic institutions. Accordingly, the more that Ukraine’s EU and NATO membership prospects are enhanced, the greater will be the level of confidence in its longer-term prospects. The most important first step in Ukraine’s reconstruction, however, will be to end this horrific war on Ukrainian terms. 

Ukraine’s reconstruction will pose a sequential set of challenges. First, and foremost, it must win the war while the Ukrainian state, its institutions and its people must be sustained in the interim. International humanitarian assistance will have to continue in war’s aftermath as the country begins to rebuild critical infrastructure. Reconstruction of damaged infrastructure will take years, but it is important that this process be accelerated now, even before the war has ended. Once these essential systems and services are functioning, Ukraine and its international partners can push for a broader development effort to advance the country’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions and unleash its creative potential. 

At the same time, Russia must pay for the damages it has done to Ukraine’s economy and infrastructure and turn over all those who have been charged with war crimes to the International Criminal Court or other competent courts. This has been a war of its own volition and in launching and sustaining this horrific transgression, Russia has violated the sovereignty of a peaceful country while inflicting enormous suffering on its people.  

Rebuilding Ukrainian infrastructure, revivifying the national economy, and ensuring that the institutions of the state are up to the task of providing effective, transparent, and democratic governance will be the foundation of economic take-off.  Foreign assistance should underwrite these efforts in a generous, coherent, and well-coordinated manner. The prospect of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration should infuse these efforts with coherence, structure and ambition reflecting the desires and needs of the Ukrainian people and their democratically elected government. If these conditions are met, Ukraine stands to emerge from this terrible war stronger, more resilient, better positioned to prosper in the global economy, and empowered to help re-energise the international democratic order as it confronts ongoing authoritarian challenges. 

If these conditions are not met, history will judge the war effort as a squandered opportunity of historic proportions. All contributors to the broad reconstruction effort must therefore remain focused on the stakes at hand. Putin’s ambition is nothing less than to alter fundamentally the European security and democratic order, end NATO’s presence in Europe, and create a large buffer zone in the heart of the continent. That is an existential challenge to the transatlantic community of nations and to their democracies. A strong, democratic, and secure Ukraine is now the key to thwarting the Kremlin’s nefarious European vision. 

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