Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, taking the security risk to come to Washington for meetings with President Joe Biden and lawmakers, reassured a joint session of Congress yesterday that, “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.” Earlier in the day, in a joint press conference with Zelenskyy after their meeting, Biden told him, “It’s important for the American people and for the world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine’s fight and the need to continue to stand together through 2023.”
Congress urgently needs to approve funding to help Ukrainian forces battle Russia militarily next year, support the country’s finances in wartime, and provide humanitarian aid through the fight. But money is not the only thing needed to defend democracy against autocracy. American global leadership is also crucial beyond the realm of security assistance. Extensive preparation is wisely taking place now among G7 donors to begin planning for Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction. That should include appointing an American to lead coordination of this more long-term endeavor to rebuild Ukraine as a modern European democracy — an example for the world of resilience and progress in the face of adversity.
The sprawling federal spending bill unveiled by Senate leaders this week includes $44 billion to help Ukraine counter Russia’s invasion. That covers $9 billion to support Ukraine’s military, more than $11 billion to replenish stocks of U.S. weaponry sent to Ukraine, over $13 billion for economic support to the Ukrainian government, and more than $2 billion to provide housing and job training for refugees. This would bring the total amount of U.S. aid to Ukraine since the war began to more than $100 billion.
The Europeans have not been idle, either. The European Union and its member states have committed €51.8 billion in 2022, and €18 billion for 2023, with possibly more to come. In addition, European countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have spent an estimated €26.6 billion for the integration of millions of Ukrainian refugees, and Europe more broadly has spent an estimated €705.5 billion since September 2021 to address the acute energy crisis across the continent — burdens that American taxpayers do not have to shoulder.
The burden-sharing equation will further tilt toward Europe when it comes time to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine: In addition to other sources of money, like the potential seizure of Russian assets or private-sector contributions, EU taxpayers will need to foot large parts of the bill for rebuilding and Europeanizing Ukraine’s economy. While the United States will continue to have a geopolitical interest in helping Ukraine establish itself as a modern European democracy, the European Union’s commitment to make Ukraine a member of the club will turn every other member state, even the poorest, into a donor to Ukraine, their future member state.
Thus, it makes sense that European leaders have been in the driver’s seat when it comes to planning for the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosted a major international conference on Ukrainian recovery in Berlin in October. (Two of the authors, Eisen and Kleine-Brockhoff, participated as experts.) Last week, under Germany’s rotating presidency, the G7 announced the creation of a multi-agency coordination platform to align international donors around “Ukraine’s repair, recovery, and reconstruction.” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arranged for the European Commission, together with Ukraine, to provide the staff secretariat for this donor-coordination platform, inviting countries to send liaison officers and other personnel to the secretariat. Also last week, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a “Standing with the Ukrainian People” conference, which generated €1 billion in pledges to aid Ukraine through the winter.
But despite U.S. leadership on security assistance, including as evinced by the fact that Washington was the destination of Zelenskyy’s first foreign visit since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February, the United States has not been prominently participating in any of this planning to fund post-war reconstruction. At both Berlin and a similar conference about Ukrainian reconstruction in Lugano, Switzerland, in July, where Ukraine was represented by a 90-person delegation and multiple heads of state from EU member states were present, the U.S. government delegation never appeared on stage and did not include any officials at the Cabinet level.
Laying low in Washington, D.C. made sense for the first months of this reconstruction effort, allowing the Europeans to start taking ownership over the process and the G7 to announce the donor-coordination platform. But now that all of that has happened, it is time for the Americans to take a more active role in Ukrainian reconstruction.
The best way for the Biden administration to join and shape this effort would be to get the G7 to appoint a notable American to lead the donor-coordination platform. This was a key point of a reconstruction blueprint recommended by the German Marshall Fund of the United States in September and considered by the G7. Subsequent coordinators in future years can be European, reflecting the EU’s deepening commitment and responsibility as the process moves toward Ukraine’s EU accession. But starting with a prominent American would provide the strong global leadership needed to forge the truly international coalition of donors that will be required to raise the enormous sums needed to build Ukraine back better.
One possibility would be to identify an official who served in a Republican administration, which would be an effective way to get a Republican-controlled House of Representatives to buy into Ukraine’s reconstruction over the next two years. A conservative appointee could speak with authority about how reconstruction money is being spent and provide transparency and accountability on projects that are vitally important to U.S. national security interests.
Ideally, that person would also have strong civil society and anti-corruption ties. That is because the credibility of their assurances to American taxpayers and the prospects of Ukraine’s EU accession require elevating civil society and prioritizing anti-corruption in the reconstruction process. On some occasions over the past eight years, when Ukrainian officials have resisted strongly implementing anti-corruption reforms, U.S. officials — including then-Vice President Biden — have had to insist on upholding conditionality more strongly than EU officials would have been willing to do on their own. And two of us have explained, without strong integrity protections, history teaches us that large amounts of aid money flowing in will create the risk that it could be wasted, undermining effective reconstruction. All of this is a top responsibility of the donor-coordination platform.
In his remarks on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday, Zelenskyy thanked the United States for its global leadership in support of Ukraine. Time and again, America has shown that it can build and sustain global coalitions. It can convince and cajole others. Now, at a moment of urgent need, it is time to do it again. The way to make good on this is for Congress to enact Ukrainian security assistance and for the Biden administration to get the G7 to pick an American to coordinate funding for Ukraine’s reconstruction. These next steps are key to the U.S. and its allies helping Ukraine continue to win the war and prepare to win the peace.