On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Successful Ukrainian Counteroffensive, Underscores Key Role of Continued U.S. Military Assistance
WASHINGTON, DC – This evening, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), alongside Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of Ukraine for the 22nd consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman and Klobuchar discussed their recent bipartisan congressional delegation trip to Ukraine and noted the progress Ukraine is making in its ongoing counteroffensives against Russian forces in Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts. Senator Portman discussed how military aid from the United States, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, has turned the tide on the battlefield for Ukraine, and how it has enabled the Ukrainian counteroffensives, liberating cities and saving Ukraine’s citizens form Russian domination.
As co-chair and co-founder of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Portman urged his colleagues to support the administration’s new request for aid to Ukraine. Alongside dozens of other freedom-loving countries that are supporting our ally, Senator Portman will continue to push for support for Ukraine and her brave patriots fighting for freedom.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Mr. President, thank you and I thank my colleague from Minnesota who just talked about our recent visit to Ukraine where we were able to meet with President Zelenskyy and his top officials and see first-hand what you can see on TV, but frankly, the emotion and just the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people. When you see it in person, it is much more powerful.
“Including going to an airport right outside of Kyiv where a bunch of inexperienced National Guard troops were able to fight off a larger and very seasoned group of Russian and Chechen special operators who landed at that airport. This was back on February 24th.
“You may remember seeing this on television. I remember watching CNN and seeing these troops landing, these Russian troops, one after another. Twenty-five helicopters came in and they were going to use that as a staging area, as you said so well, to not just take Kyiv but take the entire country and topple the government.
“This small band of National Guard troops fighting for their family, fighting for their homeland and fighting for freedom, as they told us, were able to instead defeat this group of highly trained Chechen and Russian special operators and turn the tide. And within three days they had routed them and thanks to their bravery and courage, they were not able to use that staging area to then go into the city of Kyiv, which is only about 30 minutes away, and be able to topple that government.
“I remember we asked the commander who we saw there, who was the commander that night when these helicopters arrived, ‘How did you do it? Like, how could this have been possible? That you could fight off these more experienced troops and the world's third biggest army?’ And his response was, ‘Because I was fighting for my family.’ Remember that? It's what we saw constantly.
“And Senator Klobuchar was always good about ensuring that the people of Ukraine knew that we were standing with them and that we understood the challenge that they face and the fact that this is not just a fight for freedom in Ukraine, but a fight for freedom that affects all of us are around the world. They are the shield, really, of freedom, certainly for Europe and for so much of the rest of the world.
“So, I appreciate your going again with me on the trip. We took the last congressional delegation before the invasion and now the first authorized one, I guess, after. There is so much that we were able to learn when we were there because it was a time when the U.N. inspectors were coming in to Zaporizhzhia, the biggest power plant in Europe that Senator Klobuchar just talked about.
“Thank goodness they were able to get to the plant, inspect the plant and make changes from keeping the plant from leaking radioactive material that has the potential to be another Chernobyl and also make a very declarative statement that you must demilitarize that zone, which the Russians still have not done. In fact, they have done just the opposite. They used that plant as effectively a military base by having their military there and using the plant as a shield to fire on Ukrainian positions.
“They’ve also destroyed infrastructure going into Ukraine from that plant which is very dangerous but used explosives to do so to try to cut off electricity going into Ukraine because they would like to take that electricity and instead direct it to Russia and Crimea. These are dangerous, dangerous games.
“We've seen them play politics with food, destroying bins of grain all along the southern coast of Ukraine, stopping the ships from going out. Finally now because of the U.N. and Turkey negotiations, some ships are going out. But they’ve used food as a weapon. They have certainly used energy as a weapon. They continue to do so every day, as they’re doing in Europe as they cut off even Nord Stream I pipeline to Europe, insisting the Europeans give up on their sanctions. Which need to be tightened if anything.
“And now they are actually using a nuclear power plant as a weapon of war. Not just incredibly irresponsible, but dangerously reckless and risking a catastrophe. So, again, I appreciate Senator Klobuchar coming with me. I appreciate her leadership on this issue. We’ve tried to keep this issue totally nonpartisan, not just bipartisan.
“And the members of the Ukraine Caucus, including Senator Klobuchar and myself continue to meet regularly and get updates as to what's going on in Ukraine and ensure that we are doing our part here as a leader of freedom-loving countries all over the world. As she said there are many other countries participating. In fact, there were 50 countries at the recent conference on providing defensive military assistance to Ukraine.
“At least 42 countries have provided serious weapons like these longer-range artillery weapons that are so essential to Ukraine's success. So this is not just America alone, but America has a unique leadership role to play here and that's what we have seen so far. And as we've come upon another vote here in the United States Senate and the House over the next couple of weeks, we've got to ensure we continue to take that leadership role.
“I have come to the floor every week for the past 21 weeks, this is the 22nd week, while we've been in session, since the invasion began and the focus has been often about kind of grim news about what Russia is doing. The murders, the rapes, the fact that they are constantly bombing civilian targets, not just apartment buildings but hospitals, and schools, it's a grim story and it's a sobering experience to see this as we did in Irpin and in Bucha. To see the ditch Russians dug to be able to dump the bodies that have been tortured and murdered.
“Today I'm fortunately able to talk about some much more positive news, which is that at a time of all of these tragic circumstances the Ukrainians are now making great progress in pushing back this Russian assault. So, we were here in the Kyiv area. This is where we saw some of the results of what the Russian troops had done, the atrocities and the war crimes they had committed, and Bucha, this is where the airport is we talked about.
“Remember, at one point Russians all were in this area. They were pushed out and went down to this area called the Donbas and the Russians had been making progress down here frankly. In Donetsk and Luhansk and even in southern Ukraine here. Taking Kherson. This is one of the key and first cities that Russia took. Here is Odesa and here are the ports. So, that's where we were until a couple of weeks ago. But a few weeks have made a big difference and just three days before we arrived in Kyiv, there was a counteroffensive that began. And that counteroffensive was here in the south.
“So, going here toward Kherson as it’s called, here and trying to liberate some of these areas that the Russians had invaded. This is what they invaded initially back in 2014 and this is what they invaded more recently. This Russian war has been going on for eight and a half years. The good news is that this counteroffensive has been making progress and that progress has been not just here in the south but also here up in the northeast.
“In fact, in many respects, I think what happened is Russia moved some of its troops down to the south knowing this counteroffensive was beginning, and in a surprise move that is really astonishing, the Ukrainian troops have made progress now in this area, here in the northeastern part of Ukraine. This map will show you a little more detail about what's happening up north in Kharkiv.
“I show you this in part to show progress, but specifically to show and demonstrate to my colleagues what we provided in military assistance to Ukraine is working. And particularly they have been asking for some time for these weapons called HIMARS which are rocket systems that allow for longer range and more accurate use of artillery. Prior to that the Russians were sitting back and firing on Ukrainian positions, destroying towns. Again, a lot of civilian targets, and doing so with impunity because the artillery from Ukraine could not reach them.
“We now know from public sources there are at least 16 of these batteries in the area and also a few from Germany and the U.K. And they have made a tremendous difference. That is something again that is in public reporting and we also heard quite a bit about this from the Defense Secretary and their team.
“So, here is where we are today. Remember, all of this was red on the larger map. Now, after only a few weeks and really just a couple of weeks after this offensive, you see the great progress that has been made. A number of these cities that have been taken back are areas where there is a tremendous advantage to the Ukrainians. Because this city, for example, is a rail hub that was being used to supply the Russian troops that are in this part of the Donbas, called Luhansk. Now, look at that amount of blue.
“That's all where the Ukrainians have made progress. In fact, they pushed the Russians back to the Belarus border or to the Russian border. So, this is very positive news and again the reason for it, the reason that Kharkiv Oblast is now free is because of the work of 42 countries around the world who have supplied them the necessary equipment, the necessary ammo to be able to succeed. And because of the courage and bravery, most importantly, of the Ukrainian fighters.
“Again, think back to that commander at the small airport in Kyiv who said we are fighting for our families, for our homeland, and our freedom. That gives them a distinct advantage in my view. Let there be no doubt what happened here in this northeastern part of Ukraine was a collapse of demoralized Russian forces who fled, often leaving behind Russian armored vehicles, personnel carriers, tanks. You have seen some of that, perhaps, on the news coverage and on the other side where Ukrainians show courage, tenacity, and determination.
“The Ukrainians not only outsmarted the Russians, but were braver and charge into the breach to liberate, by the way, thousands, if not millions from Russian domination. People came out of their homes, by the way, to embrace these Ukrainian and thank them. People who had been hiding in their homes, people who had been living under these terrible conditions and suffering from some of these terrible atrocities from the Russian troops. There was a great photo that I saw I wanted to show you which is of a bus stop in the Kharkiv Oblast region. This was a bus stop that had been defaced by the Russian soldiers, including putting the Russian flag on it and other graffiti.
“And here are some Ukrainians repainting this bus stop with, of course, the colors of Ukraine, yellow and blue. Yellow standing for the sunflower fields that were at one time were all over the country of Ukraine, and unfortunately because of the war, that production will be down about 50 percent this year. But it’s a beautiful sight to see those sunflower fields, which I have seen throughout Ukraine. And then second, of course, the blue for the beautiful blue sky. This is a photograph of people celebrating.
“I think there's another one there too. And people celebrating not just the fact that they can reclaim their homes, but celebrating the fact that their country is being liberated, that they can once again call themselves proud Ukrainians and stand tall. This is what is happening. Sometimes the events of the day make it difficult to follow what is going on in Ukraine.
“Remember, it was on the front pages and top of the news for weeks, and then more recently we have gotten distracted with other issues, but it's time for us to refocus on Ukraine and ensure that we are helping them to continue to make progress. Ukraine has the will, the bravery, and the military competence to win. We've now seen that. What they need are the weapons to be able to defend themselves and the equipment that we and other nations of the world can provide for them.
“The economic aid package that passed here in the Senate back in May included this funding they needed, again funding for the HIMARS as an example. It took longer than many of us wanted for the administration to provide those weapons, but they did provide them and again we’ve seen was is happening. Recently the administration, just this week, is making another request, a supplemental request for additional funding. This time it is $13.7 billion in Ukraine related funding, $7.2 billion in military assistance, of two different kinds, and $4.5 billion in budget support.
“This is a country whose economy has been reduced to shambles thanks to the Russian invasion. Their economy is down about 40 percent to 50 percent. Until they can have more peace in that country and people can come back, they need budget support, as well as military support just to be able to pay salaries, for instance, for first responders and teachers.
“I was pleased that Secretary of State Blinken also made a recent surprise visit to Kyiv right after our visit to let Ukraine know that the Biden administration and this country stands with them. He told the leaders, the administration will continue to provide long-term support to Ukraine and to 18 other countries who are at risk of an invasion in the eastern European area. That funding that he promised was from existing appropriations. The new money, the $13.5 billion is a new package.
“This is a lot of money. It is important that Congress continue to strongly support Ukraine, particularly during this incredibly critical period for the country's future. This is a fight, again, not just about Ukraine, but it’s a fight about global freedom. If we are not there to help Ukraine and if Ukraine were to lose this fight and Russia were to take Ukraine, the cost we would all pay would be far, far more. We've got to learn the lessons of the past.
“Last month, we marked one year since the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan when the Biden administration was rightly criticized for abandoning our allies there. It was a stain on American credibility and it shook the trust of many allies around the world. I can say that having talked to many of them in the aftermath. If we were to abandon Ukraine, especially right after they have demonstrated such spectacular military success, we would be making that mistake all over again.
“Many wondered if America could be trusted to watch their backs. Remember Ukraine is a free and democratic country that looks to us, to the United States, as a role model. In 2014, they made a deliberate decision which was to get rid of a Russian-backed corrupt government and instead turn to the West, to Europe, to the United States. To adopt our free market approaches, but also our democratic approaches of free speech, free and fair elections, ensuring that they had transparency and were fighting corruption.
“That's the country that we want to hold up as a role model and certainly continue to support them. In 1994, we made a commitment after the Cold War ended, along with, by the way, the U.K. and Russia, that in exchange for them getting rid of their nuclear weapons in Ukraine, that we would stand with them and protect their territorial integrity. Of course, Russia is not making good on that pledge, but the United States of America, another reason for us to stand with our allies who have chosen to stand with us.
“To underscore the point that the assistance is appreciated, every time Senator Klobuchar and I were in a meeting, we heard the same thing, whether it was with President Zelenskyy, whether it was with people who were in these small towns like Irpin or Bucha which was thank you, thank you, thank you. A deep appreciation for what we're are doing and thankfulness to the American people.
“I will remind everyone that Ukraine has never asked for us to put American boots on the ground. This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. What they have offered for us is an opportunity to protect freedom by providing them with the ability to protect themselves. We can't let Vladimir Putin even begin to think the West is beginning to falter in this mission, especially as this counter-offensive makes more and more progress as the war crosses the 200-day mark.
“It is important to note we're not the only ones, again, providing it. Nations around the world have banded together and that's important. They know that if aggression can succeed in Ukraine, it can spread elsewhere, including further Russian encroachments in Europe that Russia has openly talked about. Reclaiming the Russian empire as they say. Increased Chinese aggression throughout Asia, including in the Pacific Ocean and the Solomon Islands is an example of that today. Increased Chinese aggression with regard to Taiwan.
“Aggressive moves by Iran exporting terrorism and instability across the Middle East. So, this is about Ukraine, but it's really about a broader issue, and all countries are watching. Our allies and our adversaries. I know there are some out there who say we can't provide indefinite funding to Ukraine with no end in sight. Well, I totally agree. That's not what anybody wants to do or no one expects to do. Everyone agrees that our aid to Ukraine will end at the right point as Ukraine reclaims its rightful territory. The question is just when. We cannot let an arbitrate timeline determine that. We tried that in Afghanistan. It doesn't work.
“We have to be guided by the reality on the ground. It's clear that ending our support now would be premature, ill-advised. We've got to step up and this is money well spent in defense of freedom. A Russian victory would be disastrous for U.S. national security, the stability, and volatility of the world. The security of our NATO allies and certainly the security of eastern Europe. We know that Russia would not stop there. Vladimir Putin himself has said, ‘the borders of Russia never end.’ He talked about recreating the Soviet Union, recreating the Russian empire. I would say that the borders of Russia end where freedom begins. Meanwhile, China would see the West surrender in Ukraine as proof of the West’s weakness. It would further embolden them.
“A Ukrainian victory would have the opposite effect. It would not only cripple Russia's war machine that President Putin has used to invade Georgia, Ukraine in 2014, Transnistria, Syria, and parts of Africa where they continue to meddle. It would also make Russian military aggression less likely for a long period of time. With President Putin expected to meet with President Xi this week, both men know that the U.S. and their allies stand together against rogue aggression, against sovereign countries. That's very important as a message to send.
“Of course with our assistance, we're going to be voting on once again here in this body, there have to be safeguards in place. There have to be guard rails. We have to ensure that military assistance is subject to careful accountability.
“When Senator Klobuchar and I were there, we talked to the 101st Airborne in Poland who are handling a lot of the equipment coming in from around the world, from all these dozens of other countries and the United States. They talked to us a lot about what's called, ‘end use monitoring’, knowing where these weapons are going precisely to ensure they go to the right hands and ensure there is not an issue with regard to how these weapons are being used.
“It's been more difficult to do that in Ukraine given the security concerns but during our trip, we heard about real progress being made to increase that U.S. and global oversight of our military aid to Ukraine with real end use monitoring. And as our embassy in Kyiv begins to bring people back, we have more American eyes on the ground to ensure that oversight. Ukraine itself, by the way, wants this transparency and strongly supports it.
“The price that we paid to stop Russia now is small compared to what we would pay if they succeed and the deeper price, of course, is being paid by Ukraine. As NATO General Secretary Stoltenberg said recently, ‘the price we pay is measured in currency. The price they pay in Ukraine is measured in lives lost every day.’ We are on the side of freedom. Ukrainians want their freedom back. They fought for it in 2014 in the Euromaidan. They fought for it several times in their history.
“The United States and dozens of our allies have stepped up to help them achieve this goal and win this brutal war and they have this big advantage. They're fighting with heart. They're fighting for their freedom, their homeland, their families. The Russians are fighting against an enemy that never truly existed in the first place. They're fighting against a neighbor that never wanted anything but peace with all their neighbors, including Russia, but now has to take up arms to protect itself.
“Recent polling from the International Republican Institute, IRI, shows 98 percent of Ukrainians believe Ukraine will win this war. Their morale is strong. Their spirit is amazing. It was certainly the feeling I got from President Zelenskyy, his team and everyone Senator Klobuchar and I met with on our trip. They are united together for victory. We met with parliamentarians from four different parties in their Rada, the equivalent of their U.S. Congress, their parliament. They were all together, all working together toward common cause. And a common enemy.
“This morale isn't just in Ukraine. I see the spirit every time I go back to Ohio where tens of thousands of Ukrainians call Ohio their home. These Ukrainian Americans and others from the eastern European area, others of the community of nations that have been affected by Soviet Union and Russia over the years, they're sticking together and their morale is high, too. On Sunday President Zelenskyy brought this spirit to his people in a powerful address to the Ukrainian people. This was a 200th-day speech, it marked 200 days of brave troops fighting. He said that he was certain that Ukrainians will get through this difficult path to victory.
“This was an inspirational speech at a time when the Ukrainian people are making progress toward victory on the battlefield and therefore peace by getting Vladimir Putin to the bargaining table. This must be the result. And with our help and the help of all freedom-loving countries, victory can be achieved. That is what is so important right now as we look at this new appropriations bill, this legislation that the administration has sent us to help Ukraine continue its battle for freedom. My hope is that this week and next, as we take up this legislation, that Congress passes it showing the same spirit and the commitment to victory as we saw in Ukraine. I yield back my time.”