Biden names Penny Pritzker to lead U.S. in forging Ukraine’s economic recovery

President Biden said Pritzker will work in ‘lockstep’ with the Ukraine government.

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Former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker met Wednesday with Secretary of State Tony Blinken at his State Department office. She’s the new U.S. special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery.

Photo courtesy of the State Department

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday tapped former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, the great-granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants, as the new U.S. special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery.

Pritzker, who served as Commerce Department secretary under former President Barack Obama, will lead the U.S. drive to rebuild the Ukraine economy. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has endured for more than 18 months and shows no sign of ending soon.

The new post, part of the State Department, was established as the Biden administration is meeting resistance from some Republicans in Congress over funding levels for Ukraine.

A State Department spokesperson said Pritzker met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at his State Department office Wednesday, with a trip to Ukraine likely in the near future. Lining up Pritzker for this new position has been in the works for months.

Pritzker’s appointment was announced days before Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky visits Washington next week, after the U.N. General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders in New York.

Zelensky is expected, a White House source said, to meet with Biden and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This comes as the Biden administration is asking Congress to approve more than $24 billion in additional aid to Ukraine.

Pritzker is no stranger to the economic challenges facing Ukraine, which were considerable even before the war. A September 2014 trip to Kyiv was the first of several visits she made to Ukraine as Commerce secretary, eventually delivering $3 billion in loan guarantees designed to “promote progress on the country’s anti-corruption and economic reform agenda.”

Blinken said in a statement that in her new position, Pritzker will work with “the Ukrainian government, the G7, the EU, international financial institutions, international partners” as well as the U.S. private sector and potential donors.

“She will also work closely with the government of Ukraine as it intensifies reforms needed to win the future, open export markets, mobilize foreign direct investment and catalyze economic recovery,” he said.

She will be officially based at the State Department while continuing to spend time in Chicago.

Pritzker, a member of one the richest families in the nation, is the sister of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

She is the the founder and chair of PSP Partners and its affiliates, Pritzker Realty Group, PSP Capital, and PSP Growth. A leading philanthropist and Democratic donor and fundraiser, she is also a board member at the Obama Foundation.

“As an accomplished public servant, former Secretary of Commerce, and transformative industry leader — with deep familial ties to Ukraine — Special Representative Pritzker brings decades of experience and expertise to this critical position,” Biden said in a statement. “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.

“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,” Biden’s statement continued.

Biden added that Pritzker will help Zelensky’s government create reforms to strengthen his country’s economy and will encourage Ukraine’s other international partners to step up support for Ukraine’s economic recovery.

In a statement released Thursday, Pritzker said: “Simply put, the stakes could not be higher. My role — working with governments and the private sector around the world — is about ensuring Ukraine succeeds, now and long into the future, as a prosperous, secure, independent, sovereign democracy. Our collective mission is simple: to see to it that Ukraine survives and thrives.

“But this is also personal for me,” Pritzker’s statement continued. “My family fled Ukraine in the late 1800s, and my attachment to the country remains. During my tenure as Commerce Secretary, I 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. And, like many Americans, I have been inspired by the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people.”

Since the war started, Gov. Pritzker often speaks of his roots in Ukraine, calling himself, as he puts it, “the great-grandson of Ukrainian Jewish refugees” who fled in order to escape Russian pograms.

Penny Pritzker traveled in 2015 to the village in Ukraine, southeast of Kyiv, where her family once lived. The town is known as Bolshi Prytsky or Velyki Prytsky — with the family name coming from the village where the Pritzkers of earlier generations once lived.

In an interview published Thursday in a Ukraine news outlet, she said, “The chance to represent the United States in this role is personal, because my family fled Ukraine in the late 1800s from an area just outside Kyiv, so my family are immigrants from the area that is being challenged by the Russians.”

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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets Penny Pritzker Wednesday in his State Department office.

Photo courtesy of the State Department

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