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The one discordant tone at the Ukraine conference in Lugano

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As of this week, Russia’s strategic isolation in Europe has increased a little further. The 30 NATO members signed off on the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland.

A formal approval of the decisions of the NATO summit in Madrid when the alliance invited Russia’s neighbor Finland and Scandinavian partner Sweden to join the military club. It will give NATO more clout, especially in the face of Moscow’s military threat.

For NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance has stepped up to the plate: “This is the fastest accession process in NATO`s history so far, because there are only seven weeks since the applications were submitted to NATO until the signing of the accession protocols and the political agreement last week in Madrid. The next step would be the ratification and that is for parliaments to finally decide.”

Parliamentary approval in member state Turkey could still pose problems for the final inclusion of Sweden and Finland as members, despite a memorandum of understanding reached between the three. In other words, the issue remains hot because Ankara wants it that way.

Meanwhile, an international conference in the Swiss city of Lugano agreed to a set of principles for re-building Ukraine, including the need for broad reforms to boost transparency and root out corruption. Leading the Ukrainian delegation was the country’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. He described one particular source of funding: 

“So it costs more than 700 billions (euros). So we understand that it’s a huge, huge money. But we understand that some of them will be compensated from confiscated Russian assets – it should be confiscated – it should be given to Ukraine from confiscated Russian assets.”

Several international partners, including the president of Switzerland, have pushed back on the plan. Their argument: the protection of property rights is fundamental in a liberal democracy. A little discordant note at the conference, just the beginning of a long conversation.

For more on this, we interviewed Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington and the German Marshall Fund in Brussels.

Euronews: So, what is the rationale behind staging this reconstruction conference while the war is still raging?

Kirkegaard: First of all, there is certainly a very clear desire for the Ukrainians to get firm financial commitments from the Western economies that support it as early as possible. And then there is also, I think, among the potential donors, a bit of jockeying for position. You, like the Swiss, have obviously felt they needed to be out front here showing they support Ukraine by being co-hosts. The European Commission was a very large presence at the conference as well, as well as some of the European financial institutions. Other G7 nations, including the United States, for instance, were not heavily represented, if at all.

Euronews: The Ukrainian government wants to use frozen Russian assets to fund most of the reconstruction. But many donors and international partners are reluctant to do this for legal reasons. Where do you come down on this? After all, it’s Russia who couldn’t care less about legal principles when invading Ukraine, right?

Kirkegaard: Yeah. I mean, my my view is that I think the legal threshold of not just freezing but confiscating sovereign assets is potentially quite problematic. You know, none of this can actually happen until there is an actual peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine. And in that situation, I could easily imagine the Russian government as part of getting a deal voluntarily, if you like, committed to contribute, you know, a certain amount of those frozen assets, partly because it wouldn’t explicitly be war reparations. And the money in some ways is lost anyway to Russia. If that happens, I believe the frozen assets will also play a role with Russia’s blessing in the reconstruction effort.

Euronews: What needs to happen that the reconstruction of Ukraine will not be mired in corruption?

Kirkegaard: First of all, you will need full transparency in basically where the money goes. That clearly entails quite a lot of efforts on behalf of the Ukrainian government. But perhaps equally important, a firm anchoring of reconstruction priorities in different Ukrainian regions with local governments, local people. This is not something traditionally that Ukraine has obviously been known for, quite the contrary. This cannot just be a sort of a top-down diktat from Kiev, that won’t work.

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