On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Additional Support for Ukraine, Condemns Putin’s Port Blockade, War Crimes & Highlights Plight of Ukrainian Orphans

June 13, 2022 | Press Releases

 WASHINGTON, DC – This evening, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of Ukraine for the 15th consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman urged the administration to send more defensive weaponry to Ukraine, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS, which are superior to Russian artillery. Portman noted Ukrainian officials who pleaded for help from the West for more aid, and called for a diplomatic solution amongst allies in response to Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which is causing food shortages.

Earlier this year, Portman authored a letter to the State Department to highlight the plight of Ukrainian orphans and provide updates about HOW Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine is affecting these innocent lives. 

As co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Senator Portman has met numerous times with Ukrainian officials, and is scheduled to meet with members of the Ukrainian Parliament, or the Rada, later this week to discuss how America can continue to support Ukraine in her time of need.

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

image002.png

“For the 15th straight week, while the United States Senate has been in session, I come to the floor to talk about what's going on in Ukraine. This is the war that Russia continues to wage against the people of Ukraine. I'm going to talk about what's happened in the last week, some of it's very concerning. But also about what we can do, right now, to help more -- to help our ally, Ukraine, to help President Zelenskyy and his duly elected government, and to help the people of Ukraine. Last week I talked about a grim milestone, 100 days of this war. It's becoming a war of attrition. The Russians expected a quick victory, remember? That didn't happen. Now they are grinding it out in one area, called the Donbas region. Unfortunately, they're making some incremental progress there. In a minute, I'll have a map here to show you where the Donbas region is, but that's where the focus is right now. That's where the Russians are grinding it out.

“The fate of Ukraine, its future, may be decided here in the next few months. Or maybe even weeks, given what's happening in the Donbas. The Russians have regrouped and they're using their superior weapons, particularly long-range artillery. The Ukrainians, although fighting valiantly, don't have that longer-range artillery to counteract what Russia is doing. The Russians are sitting back with this long-range, accurate artillery, they are hitting Ukrainian positions, taking out Ukrainian cities, flattening them, then the Ukrainians can't reach them because they don't have artillery that is long-range. There has been some Ukrainian progress in the past week. If you look at this map, you can see that in the northeast, around Kharkiv, up here, you can see this light blue, Ukrainians have made some progress. In fact, in one case actually, pushed the Russians back to the Russian border.

“They've also made some progress here in the south, and you see the city of Kherson, that was one of the first big cities that the Russians took during this most recent attack. The Ukrainians are moving toward that area. That is positive news. Frankly, one reason they're making the progress is the Russians are all focused right here. This is the Donbas region we talked about earlier. And this is where the Russians are making incremental progress, and killing, frankly, a lot of Ukrainian civilians, but also Ukrainian soldiers. Russia is grinding it out, as I said earlier, meaning that they are using their superior artillery fire, they have more troops, they have more weapons. But the Ukrainian defenders are fighting hard. They're making the Russians pay for every single inch of territory that's being taken. This is particularly true in Severodonetsk, which is right in here, in Severodonetsk there's an ongoing battle tonight as we talk. The Russians are engaged in urban combat there. The Ukrainians have fiercely defended their homeland. But, I will say the Russians are still advancing, bit by bit, in some cases kilometer by kilometer every day. Because they have that firepower, especially that longer range, accurate and deadly artillery.

“Reports yesterday said unless they can get access to that longer-range artillery themselves, Severodonetsk and the entire Luhansk region could fall to Russia soon, possibly within weeks. This should alarm all of us. It should alarm the administration, it should alarm the Congress because every time Russia gains more territory, they reduce it to mostly rubble, destroy it, and then they dig in making it twice as hard to get that territory back. Because the Russians have more artillery than the Ukrainians and their weapons have longer ranges, the Russian forces concentrate massive firepower on Ukrainian positions at distances, which the Ukrainian forces cannot reach. Then they move in.  They destroy territory. They occupy it. There's a disparity in the quality and quantity of artillery has put be Ukraine as a distinct disadvantage. The good news is we can fix this problem. We can level this playing field and address this disparity. America and our allies have the ability to do it, and it's urgent that we do it now. In our inventory, we have hundreds of what are called high mobility artillery rocket systems or HIMARS, it’s an advanced system that’s actually superior to Russian artillery in almost every way. More mobility, more accuracy, and more importantly, more range. Getting these systems, these HIMAR systems to Ukraine could be a game changer. It could save so many lives.

“With these systems in the arsenal, the Ukrainians could turn the table on the Russians here in the Donbas region. They could grind the Russian advance to a halt and maybe push Russian forces back as they're doing in Kharkiv up here or down here in the south. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has been unwilling to act quickly on these HIMARS. Two weeks ago, after weeks of Ukrainian request echoed by some of us here in the United States Congress, President Biden announced he would provide Ukraine with some of these systems. I was really pleased we were finally taking that step. However, according to the Department of Defense, I now learn that the administration is only sending four of these systems. Four. The administration has said that it's only providing Ukraine with midrange missiles as well, meaning Ukrainian troops will need to fire from closer to Russian positions and put themselves at greater risk. That announcement of our decision to send four systems will be two weeks old on Wednesday. We were told these systems require almost three weeks of training to be able to operate. That means at best Ukraine will have four U.S. rocket artillery systems operational sometime late this week or maybe next week. Ukraine has been fighting for its life for weeks along a massive front line. This front line is all along here.

“And the Biden administration is only now sending this military support, and frankly, it's just not enough. Combine this with the public reporting that the M 777 howitzer promised to Ukraine months ago, back in mid-April, is arriving very slowly and you have a picture that shows that we are not responding with urgency to Ukraine. Don't take it from me. Listen to the military advisor to President Zelenskyy's Chief of Staff, Oleksiy Arestovych “If we get 60 of these rocket artillery systems,’ that’s the HIMARS that I’m talking about, “then the Russians will lose all ability to advance anywhere. They will be stopped in their tracks. If we get 40, they will advance, albeit very slowly with heavy casualties. With 20, they will continue to advance with higher casualties than now.’ So he's talking about the need for 60 or at least 40. 20 won't be enough. Unfortunately, we're talking about four. To their credit, the British announced last Tuesday that they'll send something similar to these multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine. It's a larger version actually of the HIMARS rocket artillery system that they are sending. I appreciate that. However, the BBC reports they are now only sending three at least initially. The world looks to America for leadership, and if America leads with only four rocket artillery systems, the rest of the world will follow with similarly modest support. I hope this will change. I hope we'll see that these numbers improve.

“I'd like to be proven wrong, that those artillery systems are already on their way. I hope they are but the best information we have is that's not true. It has been months now and the Ukrainians cannot afford to have imprecise and low-level assistance from the world's most powerful military. This Congress sent $40 billion in aid to the Ukrainians. $21 billion of that was military assistance. I think we should expect and demand that the administration utilize that funding as much as possible and provide Ukrainian with the precise and powerful military equipment it actually needs to be able to fight this war, to stop the bloodshed by pushing the Russians back. $21 billion is a lot of money, let's be sure it's spent properly. Another Ukrainian official, Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s Deputy Head of Military Intelligence told a British outlet ‘everything now depends on what the West gives us. Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces.’ Ukrainians need our help, and Congress has done its job in an overwhelming bipartisan fashion. We should not be tentative now. Not now.

“Russia’s brutal, unrelenting rocket and missile attacks throughout Ukraine, including attacks on churches, schools, hospitals and apartment buildings have killed tens of thousands of Ukraine civilians and soldiers, while entire cities have been laid to rubble by the Russian barrages. While the media coverage has waned significantly here in the United States, the people of Ukraine are still feeling the effect and the terrible impacts of this bloody and illegal invasion of their homeland in so many ways. One is the blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports. Since the war began, Russia has put this blockade in place preventing the export of millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products desperately needed by the way, in Africa, the Middle East and other developing countries. Just this past Saturday Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotsky reported that 300,000 tons of grain were destroyed when Russia shelled a warehouse near one of these ports. Russia is actually shelling grain bins to destroy the grain. Let me be clear, food should never be a target and should never be used as leverage in negotiations.

“Malign actors around the world have used food as a weapon – the Houthis in Yemen, Assad in Syria, and now Russia in Ukraine. Russia has the rest of the world hostage with its barbaric food blockade. President Putin recently suggested that he would lift his stranglehold on Ukraine's Black Sea ports, including Odessa, but he said He would only so if all the sanctions were lifted on Russia. In other words, Russia would like to be rewarded for releasing the hostage it has taken. Russia must lift its blockade immediately without any conditions, millions of lives depend on it. I would expect the administration and allies, including Turkey, to come up with contingency plans now if they don't have them already. This impacts nations in Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia. In particular, again, these poor countries in Africa depend on Ukrainian grains. Otherwise, there will be massive food shortages. In Turkey, President Erdogan continues to negotiate an exit corridor for Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. I thank him for doing that. He should continue to do so. And even in China, no friend of the United States and a very good friend of Russia right now -- President XI Jinping has warned of a bad winter wheat harvest. I hope he can persuade Vladimir Putin that needlessly causing a global hunger catastrophe will not do him any favors.

“The dire warnings of global food insecurity and price hikes if this blockade continues should concern everyone in this Congress, everyone in America, and everyone in this administration certainty. The world's looking to our leadership to help solve this problem. What we need is a creation of a humanitarian corridor that can go out at least through the port of Odessa through which Ukrainian agriculture products can reach the world market. Until then, other avenues have to be explored. When I was in Romania two weeks ago, the prime minister there told me that they intend to boost their road and rail, and canal infrastructure to the port in Romania to help export as much Ukrainian grain as possible. This would help and I really appreciate the Romanian effort but it can't match the capacity of Odessa or these other ports in Ukraine. At a security conference in Singapore on Sunday, Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister announced Ukraine will try to export its grains through Romania as well as through Poland, as well as any place they can get it out. They're looking for a third route as an example, through the Baltic States -Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. That is a desperate attempt by Ukraine to try to get this grain out, but it can never match the huge volumes that can go by ship from its own ports. As the head of the Ukraine grain association said last week, ‘I can tell you we won't find a solution for exports without Black Sea port access.’

“Unfortunately I think he's right. It is clear that Russia is trying to starve the world into pressuring Ukraine to surrender. Meanwhile, Russia's crimes within Ukraine continue. A few days ago, Ukrainian prosecutors announced that eight more war crimes have been filed against Russian soldiers. These are, these cases are part of more than 16,000 investigations that Ukraine has opened into possible war crimes committed during the war according to Ukraine's prosecutor general. 16,000 investigations right now into war crimes. In the past war crimes trials, two captured Russian soldiers were each sentenced to 11.5 years in prison in late May after pleading guilty to shelling a town in Ukraine and a Russian soldier was handed a life sentence for shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian in the head. These heinous acts of violence are going to continue unless Ukraine has the ability to push back. We do need more of these sentences of war criminals to try to act as a deterrent to stop the further Russian barbarity in Ukraine. Maybe some officers, maybe some officials in the Kremlin looking at these war crime convictions while say, you know what? Maybe we shouldn't be attacking our peaceful neighbors and killing them and raping them and terrorizing this country.

“There's another important issue I want to mention, one that is worth the world's attention. Ukrainian orphans. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of Ukrainian orphans who are stuck in Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe. A lot of these orphans have ties to America and unique ties to about 200 American families who are ready, willing, and able to host these children. These families have been in the process of adopting these children for a long time, from before the invasion. Many of these children have actually previously visited the United States to meet with their soon to be adopted families. Unfortunately, many of these children returned right before the invasion and are unaccounted for now. Many have lost account with their soon to be families. I have constituents in Ohio and I know there are hundreds of other families across the country ready to welcome these children into their homes. In March, along with 26 colleagues, I wrote to the State Department. I have yet to hear back from that letter but we asked for two things. One, to help identify these children. This needs to be done in collaboration with the Ukrainian government, of course, and U.S. based organizations. Two, my letter urged the administration to issue travel Visas to allow adoption-eligible kids to come live with their American host families now. The State Department should use its powers under the law to immediately process nonimmigrant visas that will allow these kids with in-process adoptions to travel to the U.S. and stay with their host families in the United States instead of requiring these children to remain in other locations for displaced persons in Europe or in Ukraine.

“Many of these children may be given refuge in neighboring countries. However, I believe in the unique circumstances where children already have established relationships with these families in the United States, they should be able to come here and be with their host families who can ensure the child's safety and stability. At the same time, we could continue to work with the Ukrainian government which has been open to finalizing the adoptions that were in process before the war began. I will close with this - I've now come to the floor every week since just before President Putin began this illegal and unprovoked invasion against the people of a democratic Ukraine who just wanted to live in peace with their neighbors, including Russia. This is the fight during our generation where democracy is on the line. I'm not surprised because I've seen the spirit and bravery of the Ukrainian people firsthand in many trips to Ukraine, including meeting with Ukrainian troops on the front line before this latest invasion. I'm not surprised that they have held off Russia so far. Their strength and resiliency is a marvel. Again, it's not what Vladimir Putin expected. It's frankly not what our own U.S. military expected. They have fought hard, and they continue to every day. But they need more help. Last week I met with a great fighter in this cause, my friend Andy Futey, from Ohio, who leads the Ukrainian World Congress. Ukrainian dais all over the world. He's been a strong and consistent advocate for Ukraine and joined me at a rally at the White House with hundreds of Ukraine-Americans.

“When I met with Andy last week and other members who just returned from Ukraine, they spoke with passion about the destruction they had seen in Ukraine, about the steep price the Ukrainian people have paid and continue to pay to be able to remain free and independent. With them was a young woman from Ukraine who was very emotional in her appeals, with tears saying America needs to do more during this hour of need. As they made the case passionately that the U.S. needs to continue sending weapons and artillery and sooner, not later, they talked about the need for these long-range weapons we talked about tonight so Ukrainians have a fighting chance. Every day the U.S. fails to sufficiently support Ukraine only serves as a detriment to the Ukrainians who need us to lead the free world in helping us win this war. Brave Ukrainians are dying every day. We just can't afford to delay. My colleague Senator Durbin and I co-chair what’s called the Senate-Ukraine caucus, which we founded back in 2015. Later this week, we will bring the caucus together to meet with the leaders in the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, who are here visiting Washington to urge greater support from America for their country. I am eager to hear what they have to say.

“Many of us here in this chamber get it. We know that America can't afford to stay on the sidelines and be a spectator in this conflict. At this crucial time for the battle for freedom, democracy, and the ability for countries to have their territorial integrity respected, at the critical hour, America cannot afford to be tentative. We must remember the lesson of the late 1930's that appeasing tyrants will not satiate their desire to violently conquer and subjugate their neighbors. Some folks in this town may not understand that, but Ukrainians understand it. They know what it's like to live under the thumb of authoritarians, and they broke away from that and towards democracy – first in 1991 and again in 2014. I was in Ukraine just after the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, where Ukrainians decided for themselves that they wanted to turn away from Russian domination and turn to us – and Europe – to pursue a hopeful future of democracy and freedom. Now President Putin is trying to extinguish that hope. We must not let him.

“One question that many of us have of the administration, what's the end goal here? Is our objective to help Ukraine grind down Russia's military so that for some number of years it is unable to undertake another violent campaign like this-- is our objective to topple President Putin’s regime? Or is our objective to help the Ukrainians expel the Russian invaders from their sovereign Ukrainian territory, including Crimean and the Donbas? The administration dodges these questions, by saying ‘it is up to the Ukrainians to decide.’ I understand that. But the Ukrainians have already decided. They want their sovereign territory back, all of it.

“I've discussed this at length with Ukrainians and they consistently said what I heard from their parliamentary leaders in the past, and will again this week. Nothing less than the full restoration of the Ukrainian sovereign territory is their goal. Saying that we support Russia walking away with any Ukrainian territory would just embolden Russia and embolden aggressors and authoritarians in the future. It's now been 110 days of unrelenting Russian attacks on our ally, Ukraine. And it has been 110 days of pushing the administration to help more. This happened with Russian oil, and Russian gas exports, it happened with trade and banking sanctions and various kinds of military assistance. Now it's the HIMARS. They need these weapons. America has made its stand. We are on the side of freedom over tyranny; democracy and self-determination over authoritarianism and conquest. The countries of the free world are with us, but more so when we lead. Now it is not time to be tentative or equivocal. At this critical juncture, let’s work with allies to provide for our democratic brothers and sisters in Ukraine what they need to protect and homeland and defend democracy.”

###