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The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused more than $100 billion in infrastructure damage, but according to a joint report released in September 2022 by the World Bank, the Ukrainian government, and the European Commission, rebuilding the country could cost as much as $350 billion. That's half of Ukraine's GDP in 2021.
Russia invaded a country that is poorer and mired in multiple problems. Ukraine fared much worse with its democratic transition than Poland, although it must be said that it also started from a more difficult position.
According to the estimates of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in 1992 Ukraine's gross national income per capita was $5010, i.e. slightly higher than Poland’s ($4880). Ukraine was doing comparatively better than Latvia and Lithuania, as well as most other countries created after the collapse of the USSR the year prior. In 2021, Ukraine's per capita income was already four times lower than Poland’s.
While the recession accompanying Poland’s systemic transformation and decelerating inflation lasted only two years (1990 and 1991), it took Ukraine nine years (1990-98) to adapt to the new circumstances. During this time, Ukraine's economy shrank by 60%. The years 2000-07 were a period of rapid growth - overall GDP jumped by 90% - which only partially offset the earlier decline. However, in 2009 came a deep slump caused by the global recession and the shrinkage of Ukrainian exports. And then came the first Russian assault on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, resulting in two years of GDP decline (2014-15).
Already in the Soviet era, Ukraine had a robust heavy industry renowned for its steel production and shipbuilding, as well as coal mining and chemical industry. After the Cold War, this turned out to be a burden. Unlike in Poland, the structure of Ukraine’s economy changed little after the country regained its independence. The large production associations known as "kombinats" inherited from the USSR and later taken over by different interest groups remain the backbone of the Ukrainian economy to this day.
Steel has always played a unique role in Ukrainian exports. Ukraine was among the world’s top ten steel producers, ranking fifth in 2014. In the early 2000s, steel prices more than tripled on global markets. The oligarchs did not need to worry about production costs. Revenues from the steel industry made up 40% of Ukraine’s national budget.
Following the collapse of the USSR, regional interest groups - the former nomenklatura controlling its economy and administration - evolved to adapt to the emerging political pluralism, privatization and market economy. They first took control of the country’s major industries, then dominated local governments and finally the central government. The lack of distinction between private and public led to systemic corruption.
Oligarchs dominated the parliament, while parties centered around specific ideas – Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and even communists - either failed to enter the parliament or had little representation.
The first privatization law was passed as early as March 1992. But the shape of privatization was decided not by law and institutions, but by practice. Auctions of key industrial plants - energy, steel, chemical – were open to very few. There was reluctance toward Western capital. From 1991 until the end of 2021, foreign investment totaled $64 billion. That’s $1,400 per capita. This is one of the lowest levels of foreign investment among EU member states and candidate countries. Only Turkey and Moldova have a lower level of foreign investment. In Poland, it’s $7100 per capita, while the EU average amounts to $25,900.
For years, Ukraine depended on imported gas. Energy subsidies and low prices did not encourage savings. This was one of the reasons for recurring financial crises. As recently as 2005, Ukrainians consumed 70 billion cubic meters of gas in a single year - four times more than Poland. Gas was mostly imported from Russia, and the Kremlin did not hesitate to use price increases as means of exerting political pressure on Kyiv.
Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s president serving two terms (1994-2004), was director general of the state enterprise Yuzhmash (Southern Machine Building Plant) in Dnipropetrovsk from 1986-92. Under his rule, state institutions operated lawfully only on paper. The actual distribution of power and wealth took place without democratic oversight. Courts served as a tool for legitimizing the decisions of particular interest groups, and the cabinet of ministers managed informal financial flows.
During the Kuchma era, every privatization of a major enterprise was designed to would favor a particular candidate. The oligarchs also created banks to take out loans they would never have to pay back. They used the economic power they have gained to exert political pressure to guarantee themselves a monopoly in certain branches of the economy. They created media conglomerates that would serve as their own propaganda channels. They built conglomerates to diversify assets. Rinat Akhmetov, for instance, not only controls coal mines and steel mills, but also telecom companies, real estate, transportation, energy and retail. Petro Poroshenko, the owner of a chocolate empire, also has large stakes in the media sector. Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the former owner of PrivatBank, had stakes in airlines, oil, gas, metals and real estate.
Over the years, the problem of widespread corruption has been a recurring issue in discussions between the Ukrainian government, international financial institutions, and the EU. Ukrainian corruption had various facets. It took the form of rigged tenders for public contracts, bribes for various permits for companies, misappropriation of public assets, illegal trade, and tax evasion. Petty but widespread corruption has been a constant problem in public services.
The scale of the problem is tremendous - between 2014 and 2015, nearly half of the 180 commercial banks were declared insolvent due to various illegal practices. They held 30% of the banking system's total assets. EUR 14.7 billion in loans were never repaid. Banking sector reform led to the closure of 103 banks. In 2016, Ukraine’s largest bank, PrivatBank, was nationalized. A significant portion of the loans issued was at risk. A US investigation into fraud and money laundering found that Kolomoyskyi and his associates stole about $6 billion. The reform which took place under Poroshenko's presidency resulted in a drop in non-performing loans from 56% in 2017 to 27% by early 2022.
Foreign donors consider the issue of tackling corruption a top priority if Ukraine is to be provided with reconstruction assistance. Although EU accession can support the anti-corruption efforts, most of the work must be done by Ukraine itself, starting at the highest political levels and ending with ordinary citizens.
Ukraine has repeatedly attempted to reform its administration and key institutions. In 2014, the government adopted the "Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2014-17". It created the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAZK), which controlled asset declarations of officials, politicians and local government officials, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) collecting evidence in large-scale corruption cases, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAP), and the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court.
Another such initiative took place under Zelensky's presidency, in September 2020. It emphasized reforming the judiciary, eliminating corrupt laws (e.g., simplifying procedures), digitizing tenders and ensuring criminal accountability for corruption. Despite this, as many as 58% of Ukrainian citizens gave a negative assessment of the fight against corruption during the first year of Zelensky's administration. They listed the border authorities and the courts as the most corrupt institutions.
In the 2021 annual Index of Economic Freedom created by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, Ukraine ranked 130th out of 177 countries assessed. It scored the lowest in terms of judicial efficiency and government integrity. Poland was ranked 39th.
In 2021, Ukraine exported $68.07 billion worth of goods. Polish exports amounted to $339 billion.
At the same time, one needs to consider Ukraine's tremendous effort in diversifying its export destinations. In 2010, up to 26% of its exports went to Russia. In 2021, Ukrainian companies sold only 5% of their exports to Russia, while imports accounted for 8.3 %. With 11.8%, China was the largest buyer of Ukrainian goods in 2021. They were also the largest supplier - Ukraine bought $11 billion worth of Chinese goods in 2021, accounting for 15% of all imports. Ukraine’s second most important economic partner was Poland- 7.7% of exports and 6.8 % of imports. Turkey and Germany are also among its key trade partners.
Ukraine's top export product remains steel ($13.95 billion), cereals ($12.34 billion), fats and oils of both animal and plant origin ($7.04 billion).
Agriculture is a big part of the Ukrainian economy, too. It accounts for 10% of its GDP and 20% of its labor force. Before the war, Ukraine ranked 1st in the world in terms of sunflower seed production, 2nd in barley production, 5th in corn and rye production, 6th in wheat and rapeseed, and 7th in soybeans. The food industry was also developing at an impressive pace. Ukraine ranked first in the production and export of sunflower oil, tomato paste and egg products.
Ukrainian economists divide the country into nine areas. The Donetsk region is renowned for its energy industry, metallurgy, machinery and chemical plants. Dniprovsk (Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya) used to be second only to Donetsk in terms of industrial output. Producing 33% of Ukraine's industrial output prior to 2014, these two districts are now partially occupied by Russia. In the Donetsk region, there is a concentration of iron ore, titanium, zirconium, nickel, cobalt, as well as coal, lignite, oil, natural gas and bauxite. On top of that, there were the shipyards in Mariupol, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Sevastopol and Kerch. Ukraine's shipyards had a lot of export potential, though untapped due to capital shortages. It is uncertain what portion of industrial facilities will be left on the Ukrainian side once the war is over. Many of them have been destroyed. What’s more, part of the Donetsk region occupied in 2014 has become a staging ground for outlaw groups not entirely controlled by Russia.
Ukraine inherited four nuclear power plants from the USSR: one in Khmelnytskyi, one in South Ukraine, one in Rivne and Zaporizhzhia. There was also a fifth – the one in Chernobyl. Nuclear power plants generated nearly half of the country’s electricity, giving a surplus, especially since a cascade of hydroelectric plants had been built on the Dnipro river. The country was perfectly capable of exporting electricity. Yet, Zaporizhzhia, the largest power plant in Europe, has been occupied by the Russians, while the one in Mykolaiv is next on Russia's list.
On the other hand, after February 24, it turned out that the Ukrainian state is not in such a bad condition after all, and most Ukrainians are loyal to it. This could be a good starting point for strengthening government institutions after the war, streamlining them and cleansing them of corruption, as well as weakening the oligarchs, who have suffered huge losses. Akhmetov's most valuable assets - the Mariupol Steel Plant and the Azovstal Plant - were completely destroyed. Before the war, his assets were estimated at $7.6 billion; after February 24, he lost about $4 billion (all of which didn't stop Akhmetov, who always had strong ties to Russia, from donating to Ukraine's defense the €25 million he received from the transfer of Mykhailo Mudryk to Chelsea; he apparently doesn't believe that Russia can win this war and intends to do business in Ukraine).
On November 6, 2022, Ukraine’s National Securities and Exchange Commission (NSSMC) seized shares in companies with ties to Konstantin Zhevaga, Igor Kolomoisky, Vyacheslav Boguslayev and Konstantin Grigoryshin. The state seized shares in Ukrnafta, Ukrtatnafta and others. The assets were an important component of the former PrivatBank group's business empire. Along with the refinery, more than 500 gas stations were seized from the oligarchs.
Vyacheslav Boguslaev, the former owner of the well-known aircraft engine and turbine manufacturer Motor Sich, was arrested and charged with treason. Zelensky has been repeatedly called Kolomoisky's puppet. The oligarch has Israeli and Cypriot citizenship. In March 2021, he was placed under US sanctions. For Zelensky, this was a signal that he needed to distance himself. In July 2022, he stripped Kolomoisky, as well as Hennadiy Korban and Vadym Rabinovych, of their Ukrainian citizenship.
One thing is certain: the war will change the geopolitical balance of power. Perhaps it will be good for democracy and transparency in public life. But for now, the most important task for Ukraine is not to succumb to Russia. According to a World Bank report, the losses it had suffered amount to $252 billion. It's not just the damage to infrastructure, but also the disruption of economic flows and production, as well as additional expenses caused by the war. The displacement of one in three Ukrainian citizens has raised the poverty rate to 21%.
On the other hand, bridges, cities, energy infrastructure and other facilities can be rebuilt within a few years. International institutions are ready to pay whatever it costs. The reconstruction will be partially financed with the assets of Russia’s Central Bank deposited in Western countries. Ukraine can become a giant construction site, attracting foreign construction companies and investors. The rebuilding of Ukrainian enterprises may provide an opportunity to inject new technologies and replace outdated machinery and equipment remembering the USSR with newer, more efficient ones. It could also spark a wave of enthusiasm and social dynamism, as is sometimes the case after the war.
But when will it end and under what conditions? Will Ukraine return to the pre-2014 borders, or perhaps pre-February 24, 2022? Will the Donbas be Ukrainian again, or Russian, or perhaps nobody's? Will Ukraine have access to the sea at all? Will peace with Russia be permanent, or just temporary, like the one in 2014? Will Ukraine remain an independent country, aspiring to EU membership, or a Russian semi-colony?
We don't know the answers to these and dozens of other questions, and the scale of international aid to the devastated country depends on them. The world is ready to help Ukraine, whose people have impressed it with heroism and determination, but the reconstruction will only be possible when the guns fall silent for good.
For the time being, to function at all, Ukraine is receiving the military aid and financial assistance necessary for a country whose economy shrank by roughly half last year and whose budget revenues declined in proportion. Allies - including EU countries and the United States - have provided military and humanitarian aid worth approx. $35 billion, and aid is flowing in all the time. Biden signed a $40 billion package in May, and an additional $12.3 billion in September.
Other institutions have provided emergency aid and pledged to take part in post-war reconstruction. The International Monetary Fund has already disbursed $2.7 billion in emergency support and has set up an account for donor countries willing to support Ukraine. The European Investment Bank has approved two support packages totaling nearly €2.3 billion, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has provided ad hoc assistance worth €2 billion.
Post-war aid is being discussed by politicians and experts at many conferences. International institutions and think tanks are working on developing reconstruction plans. In October, the European Commission and Germany, which chaired the G7 last year, held a conference in Berlin. "Ukraine can't do it alone. Neither can the Union. It can only be achieved by the entire global community, which is now supporting Ukraine", said Chancellor Olaf Scholz. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asserted: "Providing support to Ukraine is not only the right thing to do, it is also in our own interest".
In April, the World Bank published an analysis of Ukraine's short-term aid and long-term needs, estimating them at $349 billion.
Also in April, the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), a London-based pan-European institution whose mission is to improve the quality of policy decisions by providing policymakers with relevant analysis, presented its first reconstruction plan, which by its estimates would cost between 200 to 500 billion euros, depending on how long the war lasts.
The European Commission in May unveiled the RebuildUkraine plan, which aims to transform Ukraine into "a free and prosperous country, anchored in European values, well integrated into the European and global economy". According to its analysis, the reconstruction process will take over a decade. In September, the Commission, together with the World Bank, and the Ukrainian government, estimated its cost at €300-400 billion, noting that it would probably rise further as the June 1 reality was taken into account. Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank, suggested that costs would exceed €1 trillion.
International institutions and allied countries, as well as think tanks developing post-war reconstruction plans for Ukraine agree that the central goal should be the transformation of Ukraine's economy and society, and should include economic, political and social institutions. The idea is not to return to the pre-February 24 situation, but to break with Ukraine's Soviet past and pave its way to the EU. The slogan "rebuild better" appears in some of the plans.
There is also a consensus that it must be up to the Ukrainians themselves to set priorities, with not only the government and officials speaking on their behalf, but also civil society leaders, private entrepreneurs, and local government officials.
Allied countries and institutions that are helping Ukraine intend to jointly supervise the reconstruction process. Effective oversight will involve the creation of transparent procedures, financial management and independent auditing.
Some of the plans cover about ten years. To avoid burdening Ukraine with unmanageable debt, assistance in the early stages of reconstruction should come in the form of grants. But it will not continue indefinitely, so as not to incapacitate Ukrainians who should one day stand on their own feet. At a conference in Lugano on July 4-5, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal presented a ten-year plan divided into two phases, 2023-25 and 2026-32, including 850 projects totaling $750 billion.
When talking about the reconstruction of Ukraine, one often hears about the Marshall Plan - the US program for the reconstruction of Europe after the devastation of World War II in 1947-51. At that time, however, there was only one donor and more than a dozen beneficiaries. In the case of the reconstruction of Ukraine, the beneficiary will be one country and the donors will include multiple countries and international institutions, which in itself might create a coordination problem. The European Commission is calling for an international coordination platform co-chaired by the EC and the Ukrainian government. The CEPR proposes that the EU establish a new agency to manage funds transferred to Ukraine. EU officials have experience with funds transferred to EU countries.
There is also the idea that the process of rebuilding Ukraine should be coordinated by the G7 countries, with the coordination committee headed by some important American politicians, such as a former presidents. President Obama would be a perfect fit. Perhaps this would earn him the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him sort of in advance after he had been in office for only several months, even before his administration toppled Gaddafi and refrained from intervening in Syria.
A plan published in October by Deloitte titled "Rebuilding Ukraine: Historical Lessons for Ukraine's Postwar Reconstruction" is especially interesting. It focuses more on the business realities than the plans of political institutions. Already at the outset, Deloitte experts point out that "reconstruction can help Ukraine leapfrog several stages of economic and governmental development and reemerge a stronger country that is part of a stronger Europe".
- Combining a large influx of aid early during reconstruction with governance structures offers a brief window of opportunity to make fundamental changes. This is exactly what happened to European manufacturing in the 1940s. After falling behind global trends, investments and, importantly, skill-sharing from trade unions under the Marshall Plan allowed European manufacturers to leapfrog into the era of high-throughput manufacturing. The same opportunity exists today in Ukraine. Investments and knowledge-sharing can help Ukraine create the digital infrastructure needed to create both a cutting-edge economy and more effective and efficient government services.
Kosovo experienced a similar leapfrog moment for reform during its reconstruction. In the early years after the country’s conflict, reconstruction focused not only on physical capital (particularly the housing stock), but also on building much of the country’s legal and institutional foundation for a market economy.
Experts list some of the priorities that Ukraine needs to address:
They conclude that the country's EU candidate status and reconstruction needs make Ukraine potentially an extremely attractive destination in the eyes of foreign investors. But the government needs to address many issues beyond the destruction, such as protecting property rights, the rule of law and fighting corruption. Increasing foreign trade and attracting direct investment will depend on how many expatriates return home, as well as the pace of infrastructure reconstruction and access to financing.
According to Movczan and Rogoff, foreign capital may be interested in investing in the following sectors:
The authors recommend that Ukraine, even before it becomes a full member of the Union, should participate in EU initiatives and adopt EU norms and standards as soon as possible. This will help it be seen as a country that has radically broken with the legacy of the USSR. These include, for example, standards related to environmental protection, energy efficiency or construction, as well as accession to the EU's Digital Single Market and participation in the implementation of the European Green Deal.
As long as there is a full-scale war going on and Russian missiles can fall anywhere, it is very doubtful that private companies will seriously consider investing in Ukraine. But talks on the subject are ongoing. In September, First Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Economic Development Yulia Svyrydenko held a number of meetings in New York with representatives of the world's leading companies, urging them to join the Advantage Ukraine program - supporting foreign investment in Ukraine. She spoke with representatives of US Steel, NuScale Power (a corporation working on small reactors), JP Morgan, General Electric, MUFG Bank (Japan's largest bank), Honeywell and Halliburton (the world's second largest oilfield service company).
- The flagships of global business are ready for a serious, substantive dialogue on potential engagement- Svyrydenko assured, but it's impossible to expect her to say otherwise after such a visit. A more concrete sign is that investment banks are ready to engage their experts to draw up analyses.
There are many such signals. In December, Ukraine's Infrastructure Forum was held in London, where the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Economy Oleksandr Gryban assured that his country would become one of the best in the world in terms of opportunities for investors.
In November, the Ukrainian government signed an agreement with BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory to support Kyiv in attracting investors. Black Rock is the world's largest investment fund, but the deal was signed with a subsidiary that provides financial advice rather than asset management.
- Until the war is over, it is difficult to expect significant investment. Without adequate war insurance, any investor building a new factory is afraid it could be attacked by Russian drones, Aivaras Abromavicius, a former partner at asset management firm East Capital, told the Financial Times.
In discussing Ukraine's reconstruction plans, the author used information provided by the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington.
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