Eyeing endgame, Joe Biden taps Barack Obama vet Penny Pritzker to oversee Ukraine rebuilding

Eyeing endgame, Joe Biden taps Barack Obama vet Penny Pritzker to oversee Ukraine rebuilding

President Biden has tapped a veteran of the Obama administration Cabinet and major Democratic Party donor to help promote the rebuilding of the Ukrainian economy, creating a new post to coordinate the reconstruction effort even as Ukraine battles to fight off a Russian invading force that still occupies a fifth of the country.

The White House announced Thursday that former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will be the president’s special representative for Ukraine‘s economic recovery, coordinating the U.S. government and private-sector response and working with allies and international financial institutions on the rebuilding effort.

The appointment comes amid growing resistance from some in Congress to additional billions of dollars proposed by Mr. Biden to aid Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February 2022. It also comes just weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy replaced his defense minister amid reports of continuing corruption and misuse of funds in the country’s military.

A member of Chicago’s billionaire Pritzker family and a major Democratic Party donor, the 64-year-old Ms. Pritzker headed the Commerce Department from 2013 to 2017.

Mr. Biden in a statement said the new special representative’s duties will include “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 president said the envoy’s job also will be to make sure domestic and international rebuilding efforts do not conflict or overlap.

In addition to tens of thousands of deaths and millions more driven from their homes by the Russian invasion, Ukraine has suffered major economic damage as well. Kyiv officials say the economy shrank by nearly a third in 2022 because of the war, and Russia is blocking a deal that had allowed vital Ukrainian grain and agricultural exports to reach world markets.

According to estimates by the website Economic Observatory, Ukraine will require more than a decade of economic growth of 3% annually to recover from the destruction of infrastructure and the displacement of millions of workers.

But Mark Volynski, an economic analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said parts of the Ukrainian economy have proved to be “just as resilient as its people.”

“Despite the continued fighting, the country’s economy has started to stabilize,” he wrote in a blog post this week. “A large reason for this positive development is the government’s policy to reduce income taxes as well as VATs on imports and taxes on fuels, slowing down inflation and supporting Ukrainian businesses while active fighting continued.”

Mr. Biden said the U.S. remains focused on the present even as it prepares for Ukraine‘s future.

“We remain steadfastly committed to helping it defend its freedom today,” the president said in his statement. “The brave people of Ukraine have inspired the world with their resilience and resolve, and … the United States remains committed to stand with them, for as long as it takes.”

Ms. Pritzker‘s appointment came just as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was announcing Thursday yet another round of sanctions on the Russian economy, targeting more than three dozen individuals and Russian companies involved in energy production and exploration in the Arctic and elsewhere.