Zelenskyy appeals for help with Ukraine’s energy network as recovery conference opens

BERLIN (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday appealed for short-term help in repairing his country’s electricity network and long-term investment in its energy system at a conference to gather support for Ukraine’s recovery from the destruction wreaked by Russia’s war.

Starting a week of intense diplomacy that will also see him travel to the Group of Seven summit of Ukraine’s leading Western allies in Italy and a global peace summit in Switzerland, Zelenskyy also renewed his calls for more help in repelling missile attacks by Russian forces. Hours later, Zelenskyy thanked Germany for its support in a speech to lawmakers in Berlin.

The two-day Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin follows up on a similar gathering in London a year ago.

The German hosts say it is bringing together 2,000 people from national and local politics, business and other areas, arguing that the task of supporting Ukraine’s recovery is too big for governments alone.

Among other immediate problems, sustained Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power grid in recent weeks have forced energy companies to institute nationwide rolling blackouts.

Zelenskyy told the conference that, in the coming month, Ukraine needs equipment for heating and electricity plants that are currently out of action. “This will allow us to respond to the situation here and now,” he said.

According to the president, nine gigawatts of electricity generating capacity have been destroyed — including 80% of thermal power and one-third of hydroelectric power — while the peak consumption in Ukraine last winter was 18 gigawatts. Energy, he said, continues to be “one of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s main targets.”

Looking beyond Ukraine’s immediate problems, Zelenskyy said foreign investments in energy would be mutually beneficial.

“Ukraine has all the natural foundations for modern energy, but without your financing and investments, we won’t be able to realize this,” he said.

“This is not about grants, but about high-yield investments for your companies, about a large market for your equipment, about loan programs for your institutions,” all of which could create tens of thousands of new jobs, he added.

That message was echoed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said the World Bank has estimated that rebuilding and modernizing Ukraine will require investments of nearly $500 billion over the next 10 years.

“The reconstruction of Ukraine is and also must be a business case,” Scholz told participants. He said that is illustrated by Ukraine having exported excess electricity to the European Union since 2022 — “that makes clear what goes for the reconstruction of Ukraine as a whole: it benefits all concerned.”

Scholz, whose country has become Ukraine’s second-biggest weapons supplier after the United States, appealed anew to other allies to help strengthen Ukraine’s air defense, “because the best reconstruction is that which doesn’t have to take place.”

Since Russia launched a spring offensive around Kharkiv, Zelenskyy has insisted Ukraine urgently needs seven more U.S.-made Patriot air defense systems.

Germany and other NATO allies recently said they would allow Ukraine to use weapons they deliver to Kyiv to carry out limited attacks inside Russia. During a news conference with Scholz on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said that “it’s time” to lift remaining restrictions on weapons systems supplied to Ukraine and their use.

The Berlin conference also focuses on support for reforms that Ukraine has embarked on in its bid to join the EU.

On Monday, the head of the State Agency for Restoration of Ukraine, Mustafa Nayyem, announced his resignation on Facebook. He cited “systemic obstacles that prevent me from exercising my powers effectively” and accused the government of bogging his agency down in red tape.

Ukraine hasn’t had a minister dedicated to reconstruction since Oleksandr Kubrakov was dismissed in May. Nayyem complained that Ukraine’s prime minister barred him from attending the Berlin conference.

Zelenskyy, making his third visit to Berlin since Russia’s full-scale invasion started in February 2022, stressed the “common interest” of Ukraine and Germany in Putin losing the war as he addressed the German parliament.

Looking ahead to the peace summit in Switzerland, Zelenskyy said that “we want to give diplomacy a chance and have gathered around 100 countries for this.”

“Ukraine has never relied solely on the power of weapons,” he added.

All but a handful of lawmakers from the far-right Alternative for Germany, as well as members of the new BSW party — both of which oppose weapons deliveries to Ukraine — stayed away from Zelenskyy’s speech.

Alternative for Germany co-leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla said in a statement that “Ukraine doesn’t need a war president now; it needs a peace president who is ready to negotiate so that the dying stops and the country has a future.”

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Arhirova reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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