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Zelensky appeals for help with Ukraine’s energy network at recovery conference

The two-day Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin begins on Tuesday.

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

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, Mr Zelensky also renewed his calls for more help in repelling missile attacks by Russian forces.

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

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German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, left, welcomes Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, ahead of their talks at Bellevue Palace in Berlin (Bernd von Jutrczenka/AP)

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

Mr Zelensky 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”.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, puts his hand on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ shoulder as he is welcomed at the start of a conference (Kay Nietfeld/AP)

“Ukraine has all the natural foundations for modern energy, but without your financing and investments, we won’t be able to realise 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 programmes 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 modernising Ukraine will require investments of nearly 500 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

“The reconstruction of Ukraine is and also must be a business case,” Mr 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”.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during the opening ceremony of the recovery conference in Berlin, Germany (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Since Russia launched a spring offensive around Kharkiv, Mr Zelensky has insisted Ukraine urgently needs seven more US-made Patriot air defence systems.

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.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the German parliament Bundestag at the Reichstag Building in Berlin
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the German parliament Bundestag at the Reichstag Building in Berlin (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Mr Zelensky, making his third visit to Berlin since Russia’s full-scale invasion started in February 2022, made a speech to the German parliament, or Bundestag.

Looking ahead to the peace summit in Switzerland, Zelensky 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 legislators 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 Mr Zelensky’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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