On Senate Floor, Portman Discusses Russia’s “Referendum” Votes, Civilian Upheaval Towards President Putin & Ukraine Winning Russia’s War
WASHINGTON, DC – This evening, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke on the Senate floor against continued Russian aggression on Ukraine for the 24th consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman highlighted the sham “referendum” votes held by Russia to justify annexations of sovereign Ukrainian territory. He also discussed recent protests in Russia against the Kremlin as President Putin attempts to implement a draft of 300,000 soldiers. Senator Portman also discussed how military aid from the United States, including long-range High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS, has enabled Ukraine to take out Russian targets and liberate territory.
A co-founder of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Portman has met with top Ukrainian officials, including numerous meetings with Ukraine Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova and last week with Ukraine Prosecutor General, Andriy Kostin, to ensure that Russia is held accountable for their war crimes. He will continue to push for support for Ukraine alongside more than 50 other countries.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I come to the floor tonight to talk about Ukraine. This is the 24th week in a row I have come to bring to the attention of my colleagues what is happening in this part of the world where Russia has attacked a sovereign and democratic country with brutality. I come to talk about the latest news of Russia's illegal and unprovoked war on Ukraine and to ensure that my colleagues know how important it is that we do follow up with our commitment to Ukraine and pass the legislation that's on the floor this week to provide supplemental funding to the Ukrainian government, to their military, and also for the humanitarian effort.
“I will also highlight tonight the continued Ukrainian counteroffensive up here in the northeast part of Ukraine, where there's been a good deal of success. The light blue is parts of Ukraine that have been liberated just in the past few weeks, it's about 3,000 square miles. The red is parts that are still occupied by Russia. I will talk about the sham referendum that President Putin announced just last Wednesday and then took place over the weekend. The reasons and consequences of Russia’s recent decision to draft an additional 300,000 troops, as well as Vladimir Putin once again threatening a nuclear attack.
“I will also discuss the vote in this body, again this week, because we, in the next couple of days, are going to decide whether to provide additional funding for Ukraine. It's so important we continue to provide that support at this crucial juncture, just as Ukraine is making progress at pushing back against Russia's war of aggression. Last week I touched on the extraordinary success of this counteroffensive.
“As you will recall, Ukraine launched a surprise lightning counteroffensive here in the northeastern part of the country, which caught Russian forces off-guard. In a matter of days, Ukraine liberated over 3,000 square miles of territory and sent the invaders rushing back to Russia, back to eastern parts of Ukraine. To the north, Russian forces have been pushed back to the international boundary here and over into Ukraine or some into Belarus.
“Along this front line is a river, and it's the Oskil River, which many thought would be a natural barrier to block Ukraine from making further gains, and yet, as we have seen in the last week Ukrainian forces have actually managed to cross this river, and establish major bridgeheads, including one here at Kupiansk, right here, and also one here east of Izium.
“Izium is the place where, unfortunately, there were all sorts of atrocities discovered when the liberation took place, but there's been additional Ukrainian success here and progress crossing the river to the east of Izium. As you will see from the map, this key city called Lyman will soon be surrounded by three sides and when Lyman is surrounded by three sides, it will be very difficult for Russia to defend it. The sense is that the invaders there will be forced to either surrender or retreat.
“Clearly Ukraine continues to have the momentum here in the northeast and again, therefore exactly the time for us to continue to support Ukraine. U.S. funding has made a huge difference and the actions of this body and the House of Representatives and the administration in providing this help to Ukraine has allowed for successes that were unimaginable seven months ago, when Russia initiated this latest invasion.
“They have actually stopped and are now pushing back a Russian army much larger, with a lot more heavy equipment. Our support, along with that of over 50 countries around the world – let me underline that, 50 countries around the world or more around the world have provided military assistance to Ukraine – that has helped enabled the survival of this country as a free and independent Ukraine.
“Yesterday I had the privilege to host Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova, along with members of Ukraine's parliament. We heard firsthand from them how the weapons we're providing are making a huge difference on the battlefield. One of the parliamentarians had just returned from the northeast region we talked about. She was just in the area of Kharkiv and she said that these soldiers there told her to please go back to the United States and say thank you because these weapons you are giving us, particularly they focused on the HIMARS, are making such a huge difference.
“These HIMARS are long-range missile systems and they’ve changed the tide of this war. Along with more ammunition and equipment, of course, we have to continue to insist on total transparency, to ensure that the ‘end-use’ is being monitored. The ‘end- use monitoring’ is the term the 101st Airborne used when I talked to them in Poland about their U.S. weapons that are going into country. This is an example of HIMARS. We know now, from public information, there are 16 of these HIMARS from the United States. There's also some from U.K., not exactly the same weapon, but a similar weapon. Also, some from Germany.
“Those 16 remain undamaged, which is extraordinary and they've been incredibly useful. But we need to ensure that all of this equipment goes to the right place, to ensure there's no fraud, no diversion of weapons. In my visits to the region, including a month ago, I did speak to U.S. military officials, both in Poland and in Ukraine, who provided details on how they were tracking U.S. and other weapons to ensure they are not diverted from the Ukrainians and from the front lines. This ‘end-use monitoring’, which is how the military explains it, is according to them being implemented in ways that have never been done before and they claim the Ukrainian government and military are full partners in these accountability measures. That’s what I heard as well. I heard that from the President of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy.
“I heard it from all of the Ukrainian officials, including from the parliamentarians with whom we met that they want to have total transparency, they think it's in their interest as well. Of course, Russian disinformation is trying to convince media otherwise. Let me give you an example of that. Over the weekend a BBC investigation revealed allegations from Russia media sources that were picked up, frankly, by some U.S. and European media – which is a warning, I think, to our own media to be careful and check your sources – but the reports from the Russian media was that U.S. supplied weapons were being sold on the black market in Ukraine.
“BBC determined that was entirely false. Russians had posed as Ukrainians on the dark web pretending to sell these weapons in order to undermine American and European confidence in Ukraine's ability to control these weapons. Turns out it was a totally false narrative peddled by the Russian government in order to sow division between Ukraine and its allies. The BBC report again affirms what I heard in the region, that our military aid to Ukraine is getting into the right hands and is not being diverted for malign purposes.
“A specific example of what we have provided that’s really making a difference are these HIMARS as we talked about. By all accounts, Ukrainian forces have used these really creatively to be able to disrupt the logistics of the Russian armed forces. They've been striking behind enemy lines to destroy Russian ammunition depots, logistics hubs, command and control outposts. Prior to the HIMARS, only the Russians had long range artillery and they could fire on Ukrainian civilians and military with impunity.
“Finally, they have the ability to push back. These weapons have enabled the spectacular counteroffensive we saw in the northeast to be able to succeed. So, when we give the Ukrainians weapons they've actually been asked for and they actually need, they use them effectively and it's working. In the clearest sign yet that Russia is feeling desperate, last week President Putin announced a new draft, mobilization of at least 300,000 soldiers to support his troubled war in Ukraine.
“Remember, President Putin promoted his special operation in Ukraine as a special military operation that would not touch the lives of ordinary Russians. It would be quick. It would involve minimal casualties and it would bring great glory to Russia. Now after seven months, tens of thousands of casualties, a substantial part of their military equipment being lost on the battlefield and global outrage with what Russia is doing, President Putin is being forced to implement Russia’s first mass mobilization since World War II to bolster his failing war effort. This is an act of desperation and is deeply unpopular among the people in Russia. According to reports anti-mobilization protests in 38 Russian cities saw more than 1,300 people arrested just last week. Here of some of those demonstrations.
“The punishment for many of those detained, by the way, if they are males between the ages of, say, 18 and 50, is to be forcibly conscripted. Meanwhile, several Russian enlistment offices have been burned down by citizens armed with Molotov cocktails who want nothing to do with Putin's war in Ukraine. In fact, the announcement of the mobilization has caused many thousands of military-aged men to flee Russia to avoid being sent to war. It's reported that airline tickets out of Moscow have reached $5,000 or $10,000 or more and flights are totally sold out. Car traffic at Russia’s international borders have caused massive traffic jams as though those who can't fly out of Russia try to drive out to get away from the conscription. Here's an example here with the border with Georgia. You can see these cars lined up for miles. Russia is so desperate that they're recruiting just about any able-bodied man just to get bodies in to fill their ranks. These are not military-trained individuals.
“They're letting prisoners out of jail if they promise to fight. Despite the official policy that this mobilization will only draft men with prior military experience, they will take anyone. In the Irkutsk region of Russia, a young man shot and killed a military commissar who was trying to conscript his friend who had no prior military experience. President Putin is breaking his promises to the Russian people and they're responding. Russia’s desperation has shown itself in other ways too. After numerous postponements, Moscow backed occupation officials in Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk Oblast. Suddenly announced last Tuesday they would hold an immediate referendum to join Russia which they completed over the weekend and in typical Russian fashion, these so-called referenda are not free or fair.
“The results have been preordained in Moscow and the actual conduct of the voting is just theater. There are a lot of videos circulating. You have probably seen them, online videos of armed Russian soldiers going door-to-door to conduct these illegal referendums. So, you have an armed soldier with an automatic weapon next to an election official asking someone how they're going to vote. Here's an example of one of the photographs that somebody bravely took of a Russian soldier literally looking over the shoulder of a Ukrainian citizen. How can any Ukrainian vote against the referendum in the face of an automatic rifle?
“The European Union, United Nations, United States, and others of course have called these sham elections. It appears that Russia thinks by claiming these territories as theirs, it can justify now their use of chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons in order to defend what Putin would call his own sovereign territory. Of course, no matter what Russia says, this, all of this is Ukrainian territory. It is sovereign Ukrainian territory. Sham referendum is only a Russian escalation of their illegal and unprovoked war on Ukraine.
“So, the results this week are predictable. You can look for them, it will be 95 percent. It will be 98 percent. The process won't be fair, it will be done with flagrant disregard for Ukrainian law and international law. Russia’s actions revealed their weak hand and the world is not fooled. U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the partial mobilization and annexation of parts of Ukraine are an admission, as he said, Mr. Putin's ‘invasion is failing.’ Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink called the announced measures, ‘signs of weakness.’ We must make it clear that the United States will never recognize Russia's claims to these annexed territories. President Putin veiled threats last week, and again this week some say, to use nuclear weapons to defend illegally annexed territory have received a good deal of media attention.
“First, it should be noted he's made similar threatening statements in the past. But he also knows that the use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic for his own country. As The Washington Post said over the weekend, ‘there are no military gains to be had from a nuclear attack that indiscriminately incinerates everything in its path and leaves the hand inhabitable.’
“The nuclear fallout of attacking neighboring Ukraine, of course, will also affect Russia and its citizens. Meanwhile, if you were to act on such a threat, President Putin would immediately turn his country into even more of a pariah than it is now and there would be a severe consequence, as the United States has warned. Nuclear weapons have not been used since World War II, almost 80 years ago. Using them now would plunge us into a far more dangerous world and the world would never forgive President Putin. The countries that are taking a neutral stance on this brutal conflict would quickly change their tune, and the resolve of the west and so many other countries to stand against Russian aggression would only increase.
“The conflict has shown that when push comes to shove, the alliance actually comes together to protect Ukraine. It binds together. Nuclear blackmail cannot be allowed to work. Responding to Vladimir Putin's reckless threats by pulling back would only reward bad behavior and create a more dangerous and volatile world.
“Appeasement does not work. In response to these threats, it is crucial that we continue to support Ukraine while making clear to Russia that there will be enormous costs for the use of a nuclear weapon. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday morning that, ‘[the use of] any nuclear weapon will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia.’ This battle for freedom transcends this Congress. It transcends partisanship. We all know who the aggressor is in this fight.
“The people of Ukraine never asked for anything other than peace and to be able to live with their neighbors, including Russia in peace. The right to exist as a sovereign independent nation, Russia's illegal and unprovoked war is an attack on their fundamental right to self-governance. We've all seen the evidence of war crimes, the torture, the rape, the killings of innocent Ukrainian civilians and noncombatants, the videos of Ukrainian soldiers being tortured with box cutters, and mass grave sites.
“NATO's response last week to the Russian atrocities this past week was to reaffirm ‘our unwavering support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and for Ukraine's inherent right to self-defense. NATO allies remain resolute in providing political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia's aggression.’ Global support for Ukraine has increased in response to the increasing number of atrocities being committed by Russian soldiers.
“I was able to hear about this firsthand last week when I met with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin about the ongoing global effort to hold Russia accountable for their war crimes which are a clear violation of international law. We discussed ways the United States can aid Ukraine in its effort to investigate and prosecute cases of war crimes conducted by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Last week, I talked about the mass graves that people tortured and executed in the city of Izium, who knows how many more are out there. The evidence of this genocide grows every day and every day the anger against Russia grows alongside it.
“So far, we believe these war crimes have resulted in the deaths of at least 7,300 civilians including 391 children. The West and our allies must all recognize that these Russian atrocities will not stop until Russia believes the costs are too high. Until there are more Ukrainian victories on the battlefield and until the sanctions are more effective at cutting off funding to Russia's war machine, Russia needs to feel the squeeze.
“We talked about this in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today. That is the only way this Russian brutality, this madness, ends. For the sake of global freedom, Ukraine must be allowed to end this war on its terms. Not on Russia's terms. To get to that point requires us to continue supporting Ukraine, to keep the momentum going. What would it say if we backed down now?
“In an address before the United Nations last week, President Zelenskyy said, ‘Ukraine wants peace, Europe wants peace, the world wants peace and we have seen who is the only one who wants war.’ Secretary State Blinken summed it up. ‘If Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.’ I encourage the Senate to act with a united voice in support of the people of Ukraine. By providing additional funding the battlefield gains can continue.
“The government in Kyiv can continue to operate. Ukrainian prosecutors can investigate more war crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. As Russia continues their ruthless attack on freedom and democracy, it's our duty to stand up for what we believe is true, that life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness will always win in the fight against tyranny and it's working.
“Ukrainian liberators have taken back cities across Ukraine as we've seen. It's working. And unlike Russia, the morale of the Ukrainian people and the troops is strong. Their determination is strong. We must continue to let the world know we stand with Ukraine. And as I've heard from multiple meetings with Ukrainian officials, including some of the Parliamentarians we were with yesterday, they've said freedom must be armed. And the United States must be there to lead that effort, to ensure that freedom's flame is not extinguished in Ukraine. Thank you, Madam Chair.”