Lugano conference on Ukraine, a missed opportunity for international Geneva?

The Ukraine Recovery Conference will be held from 4 to 5 July, 2022. (Credit: Keystone/Jean-Christophe Bott)

UN leaders will join European ministers and heads of financial institutions in the Swiss city next week to discuss rebuilding Ukraine. Meanwhile, most of International Geneva will be a distant observer.

While missiles continue to rain down on Ukraine and the country’s future hangs in the balance, countries and international organisations will convene in Lugano from 3 to 5 July to discuss reconstruction plans for the war-torn country.

At least 38 countries, mainly from Europe, have confirmed attendance and so have international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The president of the European Council, Ursula von der Leyen, is also scheduled to participate.

The UN will send a high-level delegation, led by Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The World Health Organization’s (WHO) secretary general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will also attend the event along with the UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi.

The annual conference has been a chance for Ukraine to present its advances regarding reforms since its first edition was held in 2017 in London. With Ukraine’s infrastructure in shambles, millions of Ukrainians displaced within and outside the country due to the war, the Swiss organisers have rebranded it as the launch of Ukraine’s recovery.

For such a crucial discussion, around 590 participants from civil society and the private sector have registered to attend, according to reports by Le Temps. In total, organisers are expecting over 1,000 people.

When asked about the event, many international Geneva’s actors say it is simply not on their radar. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and UNICEF will be sending their regional directors for Europe and Central Asia, Martin Schüepp and Afshan Khan – both based in Geneva.

But large organisations such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Federation of the International Red Cross (IFRC) had no plans to join the gathering, as of Friday, according to their media offices.

On its part, Bern assures that international Geneva plays an important role on the conference. “From the beginning, the conference was designed to make the contribution of Geneva-based organisations, which are already now very active in supporting Ukraine, even more effective,” the communications office of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs told Geneva Solutions by email.

The conference is perhaps seen by some as a donors conference where the goal is to raise as much money as possible. This will be a major focus for Ukrainian President Zelensky, who will be attending virtually and will send in his place nine ministers. Zelensky has estimated rebuilding Ukraine will cost around $600bn.

Still, key issues like rebuilding infrastructure or restoring environmental and social damage will underpin discussions. While the details of the list of participants of civil society and the private sector have not been made public, two side-events will be held on their role in Ukraine’s reconstruction.

They will feature Ukrainian businesses and NGOs but also other organisations like the UK-based Chatham House and the Swiss-based Solar Impulses Foundation. And while International Geneva’s big UN bosses will be there, there is a wealth of academia, diplomacy and civil society that will observe the conference from the sidelines.