Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, German Development Minister Svenja Schulze and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal pose for a picture during the Ukraine Recovery Conference URC in Lugano, Switzerland July 5, 2022. Michael Buholzer/Pool via REUTERS

In Lugano, Switzerland, where the world seems to be particularly healthy, 40 nations and international organizations have discussed what a reconstruction program for Ukraine could look like. It was not a donor conference in the traditional sense. It was about the political framework.

It is to be feared that this conference lost sight of realities. Now one can object that fundamentally new things can only be created if there is a vision. And, of course, Ukraine deserves every support in its admirable resistance to the Russian incursion. One of the facts that Ukraine’s supporters need to understand is that Russia is profiteering from the war.

The Russian military has reduced a dynamic neighboring country to rubble and probably set many years back in its development. It not only wanted to destroy Ukraine militarily, politically and economically, as EU President Ursula von der Leyen stated, but also tried to erase its cultural identity.

The official war goal is also the almost achieved annexation of the Donbass, the east of Ukraine, which Moscow has declared as a liberation. Even if at the end of this conflict there is a political limbo achieved through negotiations, as is the case now on the Crimean peninsula, which has been annexed since 2014, it would be an illusion to believe that Russia would simply vacate these areas if it had not previously been severely weakened militarily.

In Lugano, the Ukrainian government put forward the thesis that the assets confiscated from Russian oligarchs around the world could be used to raise 750 billion euros for the country’s reconstruction. That this could succeed is a fiction.

In fact, Ukraine’s reconstruction needs more like 1,000 to 1,500 billion, and this huge sum will have to be raised by the western industrialized nations. But this means that the lenders lack exactly the funds to develop their own infrastructure – and we see how dilapidated it is every day.

So Russia is a double winner. It weakens Ukraine and the West. That it has to put a lot of money into the armament itself is not a problem. Putin’s empire is a dictatorship in which the citizens cannot revolt against the leadership and are kept in a state of permanent immaturity by propaganda.

Putin is in the process of getting carte blanche from the Duma. To strengthen the military forces, he can then claim unlimited funds without further legitimacy.

There will always be money for this and for social cushioning of the consequences of war, for example to support war widows or orphans. Because Putin can sell Russian gas and oil around the world even if the West no longer buys it.

Unless the western world wants to lose all credibility, it cannot accept Putin’s return to the world of international talks. It’s not about outlawing Russia – it’s about blocking the Putin system. It’s, quite banally, about self-respect.