President Biden on Thursday appointed a former commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker, to be special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, a new position that signals the Biden administration’s concern about the country’s long-term economic survival even as its war with Russia grinds on.
In a statement, Mr. Biden said that Ms. Pritzker would “drive the United States’ efforts to help rebuild the Ukrainian economy” by working with Ukraine’s government along with U.S. allies, international financial institutions and the private sector.
Ms. Pritzker, 64, will encourage pro-investment strategies in Ukraine while also drumming up public and private investment from other nations. She plans to travel to the country in the coming weeks to begin assessing the state of its economy and to meet with political and business leaders.
Ms. Pritzker will work from the State Department, reporting to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
The appointment comes as attention in the United States and Europe increasingly turns toward Ukraine’s survival in economic as well as military terms. A report in March by the World Bank found that rebuilding the country’s badly damaged infrastructure and gutted urban areas could cost more than $400 billion over a decade. Group of 7 member nations have just begun sketching out how that undertaking might work, especially with Russian forces occupying large portions of Ukraine.
Mr. Blinken added in a statement that Ms. Pritzker would be central to the effort to ensure “that Ukraine not only survives but thrives, standing on its own.” He said the goal was to turn the country into “a prosperous, secure, European democracy.”
Ms. Pritzker hails from a prominent Chicago family known for its business empire and longtime influence within the Democratic Party. Her brother, J.B. Pritzker, is the Democratic governor of Illinois. Their father, Donald, was a co-founder of the Hyatt hotel company.
Ms. Pritzker started several business ventures of her own, and as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary from 2013-17, she was known for her close relationships with business leaders across the United States. She is also on the board of Microsoft and a former chairwoman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
She played an important role in Mr. Obama’s rise through Illinois and national politics, using her contacts to help raise hundreds of millions of dollars for his campaigns. In a January 2020 endorsement of Mr. Biden’s presidential candidacy, she noted that she had known Mr. Biden for more than 20 years.
In a statement, Ms. Pritzker said that as commerce secretary, she “worked with the Ukrainian government to advance progress on reforms, draw private sector interest, and coordinate with partner governments — activities I will also pursue in this role.”
She added that her interest in Ukraine came with a personal dimension: Ms. Pritzker’s family fled persecution in a czarist Russian area of modern-day Ukraine in the late 1800s, and she feels a connection to the country.
As commerce secretary, she visited Kyiv several times, including for the announcement of a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee for Ukraine’s government. The year before, she visited the village where her ancestors lived.
At a news conference during a visit to Kyiv in 2014, she said that Ukraine needed to adopt “a tremendous number of reforms for the economy to be more open for foreign direct investment.”
Experts say that Ukraine, which has a history of political corruption, has made significant reforms since then but must do much more to win the confidence of major investors and to achieve its goal of joining the European Union.
Ms. Pritzker was among hundreds of Americans, many with Washington ties, whom the Kremlin put on a sanctioned list in May, barring them from entering Russia. The Kremlin did not provide a specific reason.