On Senate Floor, Portman Urges NATO Expansion to Counter Russian Aggression, Commends Additional Weaponry to Ukraine, Highlights Bipartisan Genocide Resolution
WASHINGTON, DC – Tonight, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of Ukraine for the 19th consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman discussed Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports and Russia’s missile strikes against Odessa, a Ukrainian port city, just hours after agreeing to a humanitarian deal with the U.N. to allow it to operate. Russia’s blockade on Ukrainian ports has caused massive food shortages across the globe. Portman also noted the four additional HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, the U.S. is sending to Ukraine, and the possibility for the U.S. and our allies to send advanced Western fighter jets to Ukraine. A long-time advocate for arming Ukraine, Senator Portman has been pushing for months to give Ukraine the weapons it needs to successfully counter Russian attacks.
Senator Portman closed with the effect the war is having on the children of Ukraine, and talked about the thousands of broken families and now orphans who will have war-torn memories instead of childhoods. To recognize the devastation of this war, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Portman joined his colleagues to introduce a bipartisan resolution recognizing Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine as a genocide.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I come to the Senate floor once again this evening to talk about the brutal and illegal unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russia and what we can do, what more we can do here in this chamber and in this Congress to be able to help the people of Ukraine. This is the updated map that tells the story of what's going on on the battlefield.
“You can see this light blue color here indicates that the Ukrainian forces are on the move and making progress, but in the meantime, Russia back in 2014 took Crimea, part of the Donbas. Now they've taken more of that territory.
“So, the fighting that we'll talk about tonight that is most fierce is taking place here in the east and now increasingly here in the south. This is where the battlefield is, but that's not the only place that things are happening. Remember this is a country, Ukraine, that just wants to live in peace with its neighbors. It has no interest in war. And this is Russia's assault on that country starting in 2014 and now this larger assault.
“But it's not just here in this battlefield. Russia is actually sending missiles into the heart of Ukraine. You see this town here, Vinnytsya. This is where recently a missile exploded killing civilians, and children. Last week I talked about Liza, a young girl who was killed in that bombing. So, every place in Ukraine is subject to this kind of bombing. We've heard it in Kharkiv, we've seen it in Kyiv and other towns all throughout Ukraine.
“Another part of this brutal assault on Ukraine has to do with blocking the ports. So, here's Odessa. This is the largest port, but there are several ports along here that have been blocked by the Russians. So, the Russian navy is not allowing exports from Ukraine to be sent to the rest of the world.
“This, of course, is hurting Ukraine's economy which is the whole idea, but it's also preventing the export of millions of tons of grain which is creating a global food crisis, threatening the lives of millions of people around the world, particularly in Africa where they rely heavily on Ukrainian grains coming out of these ports. After weeks of discussions, really the last couple of months, finally on Friday Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations agreed to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain.
“According to the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres who has been working on this for months, this provides, ‘a glimmer of hope in alleviating the global food security crisis.’ One part of the agreement that was reached in Turkey was that Russia would not attack facilities in these Ukrainian cities, specifically the agreement prohibited any attacks against merchant vehicles and other civilian vessels and port facilities engaged in the export of Ukrainian agricultural products.
“So, there was an agreement to allow the grain to go, but also a specific agreement not to attack merchant vessels, civilian vessels, port facilities that were involved in export. The ink was quite literally barely dry when Russia violated the terms of that agreement. Within 24 hours the Russians fired four missiles at Ukraine's largest port Odessa, which again is critical to exporting grain from Ukraine. By striking the port infrastructure, they violated the agreement right after signing it.
“Here's the port. You can see the damage that was caused. There were actually four missiles fired from warships into Odessa. Two were intercepted by antiaircraft weaponry, thank God, but two destroyed part of Odessa's port infrastructure, therefore, violating the agreement. I guess we all learned that Russia can't be trusted so we shouldn't be surprised, but violating its international obligations less than 24 hours after agreeing to them may be a new low. Oksana Makarova who is Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States put it well this weekend when she said, ‘We would do everything in order to perform and fulfill our part of our deal. When Russia is violating it, they are clearly showing who they are and that needs to be stopped.’
“She went further and said, ‘everything Russia is doing in Ukraine is a violation of pretty much every international law, attacking a sovereign country, it's a war crime.’ She's right. Ambassador Bridge Brink, our Ambassador to Ukraine also criticized Russia for this brazen attack. She said, ‘the Kremlin continues to weaponize food. Russia must be held accountable.’
“I've talked before on this floor about the specific Russian attacks on the grain bins in Odessa and other port cities where they literally have targeted food that is supposed to go to starving people. President Putin apparently believes that this global food and energy security crisis, the two crises, are to his advantage.
“He's seeking to pressure energy-dependent Europeans and pressure countries which rely on Ukrainian grain to join him in forcing Ukraine to surrender. Fortunately, it's not working. Countries in the region in fact are rallying around Ukraine more than ever. Why? Because they know they could be next. Vladimir Putin has said his ambition is to fully restore the borders of the old Soviet Union or the Russian empire and in recent years he has learned the lesson that the West may not stand in his way.
“Few global leaders, as an example, stood up to President Putin when he invaded Georgia, a country that continues to be, in part, occupied by the Russians. That was in 2008. And not enough stood up to him in Ukraine in 2014 when, as we saw in this previous map, Russia brazenly invaded and took over Crimea and parts of the Donbas. When it comes to 2022, it's been different so far. And we should commend all those countries that have stood up and stood with us.
“We now have a chance to actually stop this assault, to stop what Russia has been doing, and to teach them a different lesson, to protect Ukraine and other countries in the region that Russia may have set its sights on. The free world has rallied. Freedom-loving countries, almost 50 from around the world, have come to Ukraine's aid.
“Specifically, over 42 of them have provided military assistance. Others have provided humanitarian aid by way of food and nutrition and economic help. The weapons that have been provided have made it easier for Ukraine to defend itself, to take out some of the Russian artillery that was sitting back and firing on Ukrainian positions with immunity because it was so far back the Ukrainian artillery couldn't reach it. The new weapons have been helpful in dealing with that.
“The U.S. has provided Ukraine with a specific weapon to help in that regard called the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and they have been critical to the Ukrainian military as they hold off the Russian invaders and allow the Ukrainian military to, once again, be on the offensive in some of these areas. A step in the right direction came last week. I commend the administration for sending Ukraine four more HIMAR systems.
“They now have 12 in operation and four more units on the way to the front lines. That's good. But they need more. What the analysts suggest is they need 40 or 50 just to be able to push the Russians back. Officials in Ukraine have made the need for these systems clear, by the way, for a long time, since early March. I have echoed that need since that time. Why? Because I was hearing it directly from the Ukrainians, from their military experts. So, it took us a while, but it turns out the Ukrainians were right. These systems are effective.
“General Mark Milley, who is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that HIMARS strikes are, ‘steadily degrading the Russian ability to supply their troops, command and control their forces, and carry out their illegal war of aggression.’ That's from General Milley. The Ukrainians are an effective force when they were armed with the right weapons. Officials have said with the help of HIMARS, Ukraine has taken out Russian command posts, ammunition depots, air defense sights, radar and communications nodes, and long-range artillery positions.
“These are all high-value targets and destroying them has saved Ukrainian lives and saved some of the shelling of Ukrainian cities. There also seems to be some progress in sending Ukraine other tools to help them fight, particularly in the air. The U.S. Air Force’s top general hinted last week that Ukraine might get fourth-generation fighter jets from the United States or other allies and he left open the option to train Ukrainians on how to use them. These fourth-generation fighter jets could include U.S. F-16s, the Gripen from Sweden, the Rafale from France, and the Eurofighter from the European Union. Some of Russia’s most devastating strikes, of course, have come from the air. Either from aircraft or from missile strikes.
“Earlier in the war, you remember, there were many who talked about creating a no-fly zone in Ukraine. That never happened. NATO was not willing to move forward with a no-fly zone, but by providing Ukraine with advanced aircraft, we could empower Ukrainian fighter pilots to impose their own no-fly zone over critical areas of the country. Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and to General Milley urging them to expedite more military assistance to Ukraine, including fourth-generation fighter aircraft and necessary flight training.
“The reason we included that in our bipartisan letter is because we had heard from Ukrainian fighter pilots who came over here several weeks ago and met with us. I'm the co-founder, co-chair of the Ukrainian Caucus. We put together a meeting. It was very powerful to hear their words. But they said they know how to fly these planes and with regard to the details, they could learn them quickly and it would make a huge difference.
“It has made a huge difference with what they have, which are aging Soviet aircraft, MiGs, and not enough of them. But we've got to move quickly if we do this because we've got to keep Russia from gaining more ground and we've got to save more lives. Training Ukrainian pilots on modern Western aircraft will take some time. As we've seen, even a day delay can mean the difference between life and death. So, let's get started.
“There's also the battle being waged on energy, and that is in a sense just as important as what's happening on the battlefront. Why? Because Russia gets its funds from energy receipts. That's what's funding the war machine. And they continue to leverage Europe's dependency on their oil and gas as a political and economic weapon.
“This is plainly seen as President Putin continues to play games with Europe’s gas supply. Europe depends on Russia now for 20 percent of its natural gas imports. That's down from around 40 present last year. So, a significant reduction, reducing by half their dependency. But with regard to that 20 percent, President Putin is tightening his grip and retaining his leverage on Europe by decreasing supplies, by driving prices upward, and by lining his war chest even further. By the way, his attempts to divide NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have not worked. Over Russian objections, NATO will soon be expanding rather than dividing or contracting.
“Instead of splintering, last Tuesday I was proud to vote to advance the ratification of Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications. As Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell said recently, ‘adding these nations into the fold will only strengthen us.’ I agree. Finland, by the way, has the European Union's longest border with Russia and has a very capable air force and other parts of its military.
“In response to Russia’s aggression, they have increased their defense spending by 70 percent and Sweden is targeting military spending at the NATO commitment level of 2 percent of GDP, as soon as possible. And already possesses an innovative and effective defense industry. In fact, the Swedish weapons that are in the market today are some of the most advanced in the world. Adding Sweden and Finland to NATO will strengthen the alliance’s security in the north, particularly the arctic region and the Baltic Sea.
“I just learned a little while ago that we're going to vote on their applications to join NATO here on the Senate floor this week or next week. That's great news. I hope my colleagues will join me in a prompt and strong showing of support. This is going to be one of the things that brings this Congress together because this is in all of our interests, in NATO's interest, America's interest, and certainly in Ukraine's interest. It’s a clear demonstration to Ukraine that NATO’s open door policy is alive and well that the alliance will continue to welcome applicant countries that meet the criteria for membership.
“I believe NATO should begin that process with Ukraine, allowing them to enter the next step to membership by entering into what is called the Membership Action Plan, the MAP process. This plan provides a formal road map for NATO membership that is long overdue in my view. We need to show Ukraine the world stands with them and NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO is about protecting countries in the region. Last week congress had the privilege to hear from someone who knows how critically important it is that we stand with Ukraine right now.
“We heard from Olena Zelenska, President Zelenskyy’s wife. She gave a very powerful speech to the Congress about the horrors of the war and about the desperate need for more advanced weapons from the United States and allies. She painted a vivid picture of life in Ukraine right now. Her moving words about her own family and about the effects this traumatizing war has etched in the memory of Ukraine's children I thought was particularly poignant. She said Ukraine needs, ‘weapons to wage a war not on somebody else's land but to protect one’s home and the right to wake up alive in that home.’
“To protect one's home and the right to wake up alive in that home. That's what this is about. In a TV interview during her visit here, Ms. Zelenska talked about the trauma children have faced and said that she hopes their childhood can be given back to them at some point. She said, ‘before the war my 9-year-old son used to go to folk dance ensemble. He played piano, he learned English, he of course attended sports club. Now, she said, the only thing he wants to do is martial arts and learn how to use a rifle.’ That's a 9-year-old boy.
“At the Polish border and the Moldovan border, I have had the opportunity to visit with refugees as they've come across from Ukraine. It's all women and children, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, the men staying behind to fight. This war is taking away these kids' childhoods and replacing them with war-torn memories. Those children who fled Ukraine in the early stages of the war are now growing up making friends and going to school in foreign countries. Seven or 8 million Ukrainians left Ukraine. They are far from home and they want to go home.
“And those who stayed in Ukraine are in constant fear that the next Russian missile may hit their home, their town, their city. Many will never have the opportunity to get their childhood back. First Lady Olena Zelenska has even started her own initiative to address the serious mental health impacts of Russia’s war against her country. Although underreported in most media outlets, Russia has forcibly deported millions of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-controlled territory in the Donbas, including hundreds of thousands of children.
“Once outside Ukrainian territory, these children are taught to be Russian, not Ukrainian, in a deliberate attempt by Russia to wipe out the national and cultural identity of Ukrainians. Combined with Russia's consistent denial of the existence of Ukrainian nationhood and identity, these acts must be acknowledged for what they are – genocide, and it is important that the United States and the rest of the world recognize these acts as such.
“That's one reason why the world must call out Russia for what is happening in Ukraine. Last Thursday five Senate colleagues and I joined Senator Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relation Committee on which I serve, in introducing a bipartisan resolution condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine as genocide. I know genocide is a really powerful word. It's got a long history and serious implications. Many people are understandably hesitant to use it, but the facts and Russia's atrocities are clearly genocide. Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide defines genocide as any of several acts, ‘committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, religious, or racial group.’
“Two of the acts in the definition are killing members of the group and causing bodily or mental harm to members of the group. Only one of those criteria is necessary for genocide. Russia all too clearly fits all of these parts of the definition of genocide. Its forces have killed and wounded innocent civilians all across Ukraine. Last week I spoke about little Liza who was killed in Vinnystya. This is the aftermath of the bombing in Vinnytsya. I've also heard about the target practice that Russian soldiers have bragged about that they did in Syeverodonetsk, shooting at innocent civilians like it was some kind of a game.
“And we cannot forget the horrors of Buca where Russian forces massacred over 1,300 innocent civilians, some with hands tied behind their backs. This included 31 children and the mental toll of this war has, of course, also been extreme. Our Senate resolution also includes a clause about my resolution form 2018 commemorating the 85th anniversary of Holodomor, the Soviet Union's famine genocide against Ukraine from 1932 to 1933.
“Unfortunately, Russia has a history of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine and that continues to this day. The world needs to let the Russian commanders and Kremlin officials know we see the war crimes being committed and they are being recorded. Perhaps that would have some sort of effect on what actions they take. The trickle-down effect of this war is heartwrenching. We've all seen the images, the videos on social media of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. But not only that, it's what this war has created, the countless children who are now orphans.
“I've talked about this in the past, but according to Under Secretary of State Victoria Newland, ‘Russia makes orphans and then steals those orphans – up to 1,000 Ukrainian kids are being stolen and taken and given to Russian families to potentially never be found by their families.’ That's very concerning. Let me say that again. She is saying that Russia takes these orphans and steals them, gives them to Russian families, but potentially never be found by their Ukrainian families. So, there are all these young boys and young girls who watch their fathers and brothers and uncles, and sometimes their moms, go to war.
“Many to never to come back home. There are young boys like Ms. Zelenska's son, a 9-year-old who wants to be a soldier. And there are the children who will never be with their family in Ukraine again. That's where we are today, a merciless authoritarian who needs to flex his power against a nation that just wants to live peacefully. Nothing more than to live in peace with their neighbors. This is a struggle between freedom and democracy and self-determination, on the one hand, and aggression and conquest and tyranny, authoritarianism, on the other. Our choice is clear.
“At this critical juncture, let's continue to work with our allies to provide Ukraine with what they need to protect that homeland, to defend that democracy. We need to help Ukraine, and we need to do more, and we need to do it now. We need to move quickly. We need to live up to these important words from Ukraine's first lady last week, when she was here in the Congress talking to us. She said, ‘while Russia kills, America saves.’ Let's continue to save. Let's continue to save lives every day, and let's save our democratic ally, Ukraine, a proud nation that is simply fighting for its survival. Thank you, and I yield the floor.”