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Biden taps Penny Pritzker to help Ukraine rebuild its economy

Crain's Chicago Business

Monday, September 18, 2023  |  Article  |  Akayla Gardner

President Joe Biden said he is appointing former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to be the US special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, a new post aimed at helping to rebuild the war-shattered country.

“Working in lockstep with the Ukrainian government, our allies and partners, international financial institutions, and the private sector, she will drive the United States’ efforts to help rebuild the Ukrainian economy,” Biden said in a statement. “This includes mobilizing public and private investment, shaping donor priorities, and working to open export markets and businesses shut down by Russia’s brutal attacks and destruction.”

The announcement reflects growing concern within the administration and among Ukraine’s other allies over the country’s economic situation about a year and a half into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The move also coincides with an upcoming showdown over federal funding. Biden has asked Congress to provide $24 billion for the Ukraine war and related costs, but House Republicans have been skeptical of funneling more money to Kyiv, heightening the possibility of a government shutdown Oct. 1.

Kyiv is in the midst of a critical counteroffensive to regain territories lost to Russian forces, but there is also an increasing focus on the country’s economic situation. The war has ravaged Ukraine’s economy, and Ukrainian officials say the country will need international support and investment to rebuild — and to convince refugees to return home.

The World Bank in March increased its estimate of how much Ukraine will need for its recovery and reconstruction to at least $411 billion — a figure that’s 2.6 times the country’s projected 2022 gross domestic product. The assessment found Russia’s invasion pushed 7.1 million people into poverty and reversed 15 years of development progress.

Biden said Pritzker would work with other international partners to ensure aid efforts are “complementary and mutually reinforcing, as well as to encourage international partners to keep stepping up their support for Ukraine’s immediate economic recovery needs.”

Pritzker is the sister of venture capitalist-turned-Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who is seen as a potential future Democratic presidential contender, and is a prominent Democratic party donor.Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive has made slow progress. On Wednesday, Putin met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Russia, part of an effort to obtain more weapons for his invasion.