PARIS — International donors on Tuesday pledged more than €1 billion to ensure Ukraine survives through the winter.
All the funds raised from a conference, co-hosted by France and Ukraine, will be geared toward fulfilling Ukraine’s most immediate needs, notably to secure the energy grid, avoid blackouts and ensure the supplies of water, food and medicines.
“Russia has decided to methodically, systematically target critical civilian infrastructure, to plunge the Ukrainian people into cold and darkness … We have succeeded, thanks to the conference of this morning in solidarity with the Ukrainian people …to raise more than one billion euros of aid,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Of the total pledged, €415 million was earmarked for energy, €38 million for food, €25 million for water, €22 million for transport and €17 million for health care, with another €493 million still to allocate.
All pledges need to be delivered by April, Catherine Colonna, France’s minister for European affairs, said Tuesday.
France announced an additional aid envelope of €76.5 million, bringing its assistance to nearly €300 million. France also signed together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development financing agreements for €200 million with the Ukrainian state-owned companies Naftogaz, for stocking gas for the winter, and railway company UZ.
The French treasury also loaned €37.6 million for repairing 150km of railways through Saarstahl, a German company with plants in France, and signed agreements with French company Matière and the Ukrainian road authority for the provision of 25 ready-to-build bridges, as well as for €20 million worth of seeds from three french agri-companies.
Paris also launched a webpage, the “Paris mechanism,” which will seek to centralize and match Ukrainian needs with pledges.
Europe and France want to send a strong message of solidarity and hope to Ukraine, particularly in view of Kyiv’s planned EU accession. The French government’s message is that “the economic forces must and will be key players in the resilience and reconstruction [of Ukraine],” Macron said.
“As destruction continues in Ukrainian territory, we will continue until the end to rebuild that damage and work alongside Ukrainians,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. “All the French economic power is behind Ukraine, and with it, all the European economic power.”
“We won’t wait until the end of the war to do it. We have to do it right now,” he added.
But for now, there’s reticence from politicians as well as private investors to pour money into a country at war.
“Reconstruction depends on when and how the war finishes, also because as always, reconstruction is mostly the flow of private capital and investments,” European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told POLITICO last week.
“I would concentrate our effort now in giving Ukraine tools and arms to resist and meanwhile building the frame [for reconstruction] more than discussing the amounts or raising the real money for reconstruction.”
Beyond helping Ukraine through the winter and discussing how to structure the post-war reconstruction efforts, there’s a second order of interests, and that’s to secure access for French and European enterprises into the Ukrainian market.
“We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us, opportunities you will find nowhere else in the world,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the conference via video.
Ukraine sits on one of the world’s largest lithium reserves, essential for batteries and electric mobility, and which the EU has set its sights on. Its richness in raw materials, large industrial base and highly educated workforce make it a prime investment choice, once the war ends.
French officials insist it’s not a zero-sum game. “We are not in the process of re-enacting a Yalta conference [a 1945 meeting to discuss the post-war reorganization of Germany and Europe]. The idea is not to divide the Ukrainian market more or less equally between Europe and the United States,” said an Elysée official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But while it may not resemble the carving up of Europe after World War II, business interests are already scouting for investment opportunities. More than 500 French businesses were present at the conference, including household names like Lactalis, Enedis and Sanofi. “During the war and in preparation for the post-war period, there is much to be done and many French companies have shown interest,” the official said.
Everyone’s thinking the same: “Those who come first will gain the most,” Yevgeniya Piddubna, director of corporate affairs at Ukrainian pharmaceutical company Farmak and head of the Healthcare Committee at the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs, said at a recent event in Brussels.
Clea Caulcutt contributed reporting