Thank you, Olaf, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selensky four times in his short speech at the opening of the reconstruction conference on Tuesday in Berlin. The German government had brought together around 2,000 participants from over 60 countries to discuss the reconstruction of the country, which is still at war. Selensky urged urgent help with air defense. “As long as we do not deprive Putin of the ability to terrorize the Ukrainians, there will be no peace,” he said.

Officially, Germany wants to use the two-day conference primarily to create a long-term future perspective for post-war Ukraine by bringing together actors from politics, business, civil society and international organizations at the spacious exhibition center.

However, in his speech, Zelensky focused on the short-term: defense against Russian air strikes on civilian infrastructure. In fact, the West has so far allowed the Russian attacks to go unpunished, which now increases the need for reconstruction.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz also emphasized the importance of air defense in his speech: “The best reconstruction is the one that doesn’t have to take place at all.” In view of the ongoing Russian air strikes, he asked “very warmly” for the initiative launched by Germany to strengthen Ukrainian air defense to be supported – “with everything that is possible.”

The German government launched this initiative last year to encourage the transfer of air defense systems from the Bundeswehr and friendly states to Kiev. The results have been mixed. Berlin itself stands out positively with the delivery of 52 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, four Iris-T and two Patriot systems.

According to Scholz, further systems are to be delivered in the coming weeks. Other partners, however, are more cautious. So far, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the Netherlands have promised to contribute financially. France, Spain, Romania, Lithuania, Belgium, the USA and Great Britain have promised to deliver missiles.

Protecting the energy infrastructure is the priority of the international community, said Scholz. Almost every day, the power is turned off in Ukraine for several hours. Russia has destroyed a total of nine gigawatts of Ukraine’s energy capacity, said Selenskyj.

The required capacity would be twice as much. This is where the conference aims to start, by ensuring that the Ukrainian energy sector is better protected and by mobilising resources for repairs.

One of the fundamental problems with this Western approach is that it is focused only on repair, not on preventing future destruction. Russia’s ongoing war crimes against Ukrainian infrastructure are treated like a natural disaster that cannot be prevented, but whose consequences can only be mitigated. In fact, the West has failed to influence Russia’s war tactics and provide anything resembling deterrence against the systematic and illegal destruction of Ukraine.

Thus, the West has failed to send clear signals every time Russia’s war crimes took on a new quality. For example, in the fall of 2022, when Moscow began systematically attacking critical infrastructure such as Ukraine’s power supply. Or a year ago, when Russian soldiers destroyed the Kakhovka dam and caused a huge ecological disaster in the Dnipro river delta.

If the West had responded to these Russian escalations with clear leaps in the quality of arms deliveries and sanctions, then Moscow would at least have had to take into account that it would have to pay a price for its ongoing war crimes. But the impression has been created that Moscow can continue its strategy of total destruction of Ukraine without major consequences.

Thus, the financial need for reconstruction continues to rise. According to a joint report by the United Nations, the World Bank and the European Union earlier this year, Ukraine needs 486 billion US dollars to rebuild the destruction caused between the start of the war and December 2023.

The most significant part of this is the reconstruction of buildings, for which at least 80 billion dollars must be estimated, according to the report. At least 74 billion dollars are needed for the transport sector and at least 47 billion dollars for the energy infrastructure.

In total, Russia has razed 210,000 buildings to the ground, as an extensive data investigation by the New York Times shows. These include 106 hospitals, 109 churches and 708 schools. The regions in the east of the country are the most affected.

How the money is to be raised remains unclear even after this conference. In Kiev, there were high hopes of concrete financial commitments beforehand, but none were forthcoming. At the conference in London last year, the international community pledged 60 billion dollars. But that is only a fraction of the amount needed.

Meanwhile, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed hope that the frozen Russian state assets would be used for financing. “Now we’ll make Russia pay,” she called out to the conference participants to applause. At the G-7 summit in Italy on Thursday, ways will be discussed “so that Ukraine can benefit more from the frozen money.”

In total, the G7 froze around 300 billion euros of state assets of the Russian central bank after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. However, more than two thirds of this is in the EU. The group of states has so far not wanted to confiscate the money. Germany is seen as the main obstacle. After more than two years of discussion, the EU Commission decided at the end of March to at least give the interest income from the frozen assets to Ukraine.

However, this only amounts to 1.5 billion euros per year. Von der Leyen announced that this would be transferred to Ukraine in July. In order for the confiscation to take place, the legal situation in many EU countries would have to be changed. Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas advocated this on Tuesday. “We have to make Russia pay, otherwise the money will have to come from our taxpayers,” she said. Tallinn has already created the legal conditions for this.