On April 26, 2023, Italy hosted a bilateral conference on the reconstruction of Ukraine at the Palazzo dei Congressi in Rome. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was committed to hosting this conference when she met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv at the end of February. Before delivering your speech before to more than a thousand representatives of Ukrainian and Italian companies, Meloni met the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
President Meloni It reaffirmed in his speech that “Italy will continue to do its part at 360 degrees in support of Ukraine on a political, military, humanitarian and reconstruction level”. In various meetings held in Rome, Italian officials reiterated to Prime Minister Shmyhal that they believe that, although the search for peace is necessary, it cannot be achieved by sacrificing Ukrainian territory. Meloni added that Italy believes “…in the possibility of a diplomatic solution to this conflict provided that, as I have said many times and I repeat, it is not thought that the solution to the conflict can be a surrender of Ukraine”. President Sergio Mattarella he echoed his comment, calling for “a just peace that respects Ukrainian sovereignty”.
The war is far from over, Meloni warned, and although the conference focused on ways to help Ukraine rebuild part of its strategic infrastructure, “today’s topic… especially in some liberated areas,” it actually looks” also and above all for tomorrow”. Even so, starting discussions about rebuilding now can be helpful for a variety of reasons.
Kyiv’s European ambitions
Reconstruction planning can give more concreteness to Ukraine’s European ambitions with respect to its entry into the Union. The previous Italian government, led by Mario Draghiwas instrumental in pushing the European Council to grant Ukraine candidate status for EU membership, overcoming the initial hesitation of some EU heavyweights.
Although candidate status was politically necessary to send the unambiguous message that the future of Ukraine is in Europemany remain challenges significant: from Kyiv’s ability to promptly meet the Copenhagen criteria to the impact that a country with a population of 41 million can have on the institutional and geopolitical balances within the EU. Also, Ukraine has commercial links significant with Poland, Germany and other Central and Eastern European countries, but less so with the rest of Europe. To deepen its integration into Europe, Ukraine needs to strengthen and expand its economic and logistical ties with European countries beyond its immediate neighborhood.
At the same time, the strengthening of these ties will be instrumental in ending once and for all economic and logistical dependence of Ukraine on Russia. This dependency is certainly vastly less significant now than it was a decade ago, but there are still some areas where Russia can create problems. Logistically, Ukraine has done a great job of disconnecting the country’s power grid from the larger grid operated by Russia within only two weeks from Moscow aggression. However, other industries, such as the nuclear power and energystill depend on Russia or its allies, for example, Belarus.
The Russian war of aggression that began on February 24, 2022 has destroyed once and for all the political and strategic links between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukraine is now fully oriented towards the EU. However, to make this strategic change substantial and irreversible, economic ties must also become even deeper and stronger. Kyiv had already made significant progress in this regard even before the war. His macroeconomic fundamentals they are much healthier than they were in 2014, and what it needs now is one more step to finally break away from what remains of Moscow’s economic, financial and infrastructural influence. Furthermore, further integration of Ukraine into Europe may help prevent China from stepping in to exploit any difficulties. Over the years, Beijing has become one of the main economic partners of Kyiv. A faster and more decisive economic integration with the EU can prevent the Russian economic and logistical dependence from being replaced, possibly, by the Chinese one.
The Italian commitment
On your part, Italy has a strong interest in pursuing closer economic ties with Kyiv. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has probably changed Rome’s relations with Moscow forever. Even if it will eventually be necessary to find, not only for Italy but for all of Europe, a modus vivendi with Russia, it is unlikely that Italy will return to “business as usual” in its relations with Moscow. In Ukraine, Italy can become an important engine of reconstructionespecially through its small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which have the experience, knowledge and flexibility to operate in the Ukrainian context.
At the bilateral conference, the Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani he cited the Italian SMEs among the actors who can help Ukraine in the future, by sending a message to various Italian sectors and constituencies that have a role to play in the Ukraine of tomorrow. In this context, Economy and Finance Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti announced that Italy will commit 100 million euros to the European Investment Bank’s EU Fund for Ukraine.
This activism on the part of the government also has an ulterior, more political objective. While the current government has been solid and consistent in its support for Ukraine and its transatlantic commitments, a significant part of the Italian public still wants the war to end, even if it means losing territory to the Ukraine. Furthermore, a considerable part of Italian public opinion is still against, or at least wary of, Italian military support for Ukraine.
However, the “war fatigue” is also emerging in public opinion in other Western countries. Even in the United States, the experts are now discussing options to end war unthinkable less than a year ago. In this context, in order to make the Italian commitment sustainable and reduce the pressure of public opinion, the Italian government must demonstrate that it actively provides not only military assistance, but also other forms of economic aid, in particular that look to “tomorrow”, i.e. when the war is over.