A leading figure in the Biden administration has backed a Marshall Plan-style Ukraine recovery program that helped rebuild Europe after World War II.
Pete Buttigieg, the US Secretary of Transportation, said there was a lot of political will domestically and internationally to cooperate with long-term reconstruction efforts, including strengthening existing infrastructure in Ukraine.
“With the memory of the Marshall Plan in mind, what we are talking about is not just how we fund immediate needs and support their ability to sustain the war effort, but how we support the ability of the ‘Ukraine to be economically viable and generate a sustainable future for themselves, even if they come under attack,’ the former presidential candidate said in an interview with The Guardian.
Buttigieg admitted that while “the destruction of Ukrainian homes and infrastructure is still ongoing”, talking about reconstruction may seem premature “and yet in my meetings with Ukrainian leaders, and in particular my counterpart [Oleksandr Kubrakov]who I talk to regularly, they are already thinking about rebuilding even as they think about defending their homeland and it is inspiring to see and it deserves strong and unified support from us.
He said a “major topic of conversation” between transport ministers at the global meeting in Leipzig this week for the International Transport Forum was how they could help get grain and other products out of the EU. Ukraine, which is stuck due to blocked and destroyed ports and railways and threatens to create a global food shortage.
“It’s not only something that concerns us, as friends of Ukraine, but also because the world needs this production, especially on the agricultural side,” he said.
“Without access to the Black Sea, this will always be a major inconvenience. We are committed to helping in any way we can.
“But I really admire my Ukrainian counterparts who are thinking both short and long term – how to consolidate infrastructure in the immediate term – the heroic work of railway workers to restore connections so that goods can be moved from west to east and people from east to west.
“But they are also thinking about very long-term issues and recognizing that what they will build back to will not simply be a reconstruction of the Soviet-era infrastructure that this generation of Ukrainians inherited.”
Buttigieg was speaking on the sidelines of an event organized by the NGO German Marshall Fund in Berlin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, a multi-billion dollar stimulus program launched by the United States in 1947 that provided a humanitarian and economic aid to millions of Europeans. to facilitate their recovery after the Second World War.
The plan was named after George Marshall, the man who was then US Secretary of State.
Buttigieg, who is tasked with implementing and overseeing a wide range of projects in the US activated under the $1bn (£800bn) Infrastructure Bill passed there six months ago, underlined the relevance for the United States as well as for Ukraine of Marshall’s insistence on the need to create a “virtuous circle” between a nation’s economic security and its political stability based on its ability to deliver.
He said decades of divestment in the United States had turned the virtuous cycle into a vicious one, with political institutions that lacked the resources to do well, losing their legitimacy, leading to an erosion of trust, “which gave credit to those who would undermine these institutions, further diminishing their ability to provide,” he said.
The infrastructure fund was meant to break that cycle, he added. “If we can keep our promises…then citizens will see what it means to them. We have all sorts of things that have rocked our political and social life right now, including the information environment, forms of extremism…and shocks like the pandemic and the economic repercussions of war in Europe. It’s all the more reason for us to focus on delivering for people.
He said the issues included not only comfort and convenience, but “perhaps also the credibility of the governance itself”.
“In the 1930s, another season when democracy was in doubt, and when it had become fashionable in some circles in Washington to point approvingly to the rise of dictators, some would say in praise of fascism that Mussolini makes the trains run on time. .
“That turns out not to be particularly true, by the way…but how telling that this excuse for autocrats is based on their alleged prowess in providing transportation.”
On Ukraine, Buttigieg said he was interested in President Volodymr Zelenskiy’s calls for reconstruction at the city and regional level, as part of a plan that is apparently gaining ground, whereby cities and communities around the world would adopt similar communities in Ukraine to their own.
“Understanding the needs and different capacities of different parts of the country is going to be very important,” Buttigieg said.
When asked if his government’s legitimacy to help rebuild a country was trustworthy after its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Buttigieg, who served in the country as a US Navy reserve officer , said :
“Part of what we faced in Afghanistan is how fundamentally different the society, values, culture of governance and economy of this country is…it’s very different in Ukraine…l One of the things that unites us to Ukraine are some of these core values around democracy.
“It is so early to know what will happen when this upheaval ends. What we do know is that the kind of unified approach we have that reflects shared values between our partners and with Ukrainians is very powerful and will be an important foundation of the relationship.
“Not just to get us through this war, regardless of the endgame, but in a rebuild that really promises to lead to new and innovative things.”
He hailed the leadership he said Germany had shown since the start of the invasion, contrasting with the criticism that Olaf Scholz’s government has received.
“I think it is understood in Washington that the new steps taken by Germany are major steps in security and energy policy…none of us knows what lies on the other side of this Zeitenwende, he said, adopting the phrase used by Scholz meaning “turning point,” “but we should all recognize that the only way this will lead to a good place is if we find our way together.”
Earlier Thursday, Buttigieg toured the Hauptbahnhof or Berlin Central Station, a symbol of German unification, and met a group of Germans and Ukrainian-American citizens working as volunteers to host refugees. , of which about 2,000 arrive by train from Ukraine. each day.
“Just be sure to help us by keeping the narrative alive in your home,” one of the volunteers, Natalia, from Minnesota and of Ukrainian descent, told her as Buttigieg thanked the women for their work.
Buttigieg, who ran for US president in 2020 but withdrew in favor of supporting Joe Biden, is said to be undecided whether he intends to run again in 2024.
“Right now my ambitions are to be the best transportation secretary I can be,” he said. “I think there’s never been a better time to have this job.”