At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Discusses the Importance of Timely Aid, Global Engagement Center With U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Nominee

May 10, 2022 | Portman Difference

WASHINGTON, DC – During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke with Ambassador Bridget Brink, who has been nominated to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, on the importance of passing the funding request for Ukraine aid in Congress. Ambassador Brink agreed with Senator Portman that is it critical to move this supplemental as fast as possible as Ukraine is in need of the assistance. The two also discussed the importance of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) – which Ambassador Brink said plays a key role in fighting Russian disinformation in not just Ukraine, but also surrounding Eastern European countries. Senators Portman and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced an amendment, which was accepted into the United States Innovation and Competition Act, that authorized $150 million for the GEC to boost its capacity to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation overseas.

A transcript of Senator Portman’s questioning can be found below and the video can be found here.

Senator Portman: “Thank you Mr. Chairman. And I appreciate you having this hearing today on some really critical nominations, particularly the nominee for Ukraine. I have been pushing for us to get an ambassador nominated for a long time now, from the end of the last administration into this administration and I think it’s absolutely crucial that we get someone there. I am glad the administration has nominated someone and I’m glad they chose a career ambassador who has experience in the area, both in Eastern Europe generally and specifically in Ukraine. This nomination of Ambassador Brink is really critical, we’ve got to move her quickly. I know the chairman and ranking member agree with that and I appreciate you moving her so quickly to a hearing. Over the weekend, the president announced that we’ve withdrawn another $150 million from the presidential drawdown authority which means there is probably less than $100 million left and here we are in Congress not yet acting on this supplemental request. So, literally munitions, in addition of course to new weapons, are potentially going to be stalled so it is critical that we act and act quickly so we don’t have a gap in these munitions and these deliveries right now, which is a crucial time, obviously, in what’s going on in the Eastern and Southern part of Ukraine. So I just wonder, Ambassador Brink, if you could talk a little about that. Why is it so important that we get this legislation passed quickly? What would it mean if we did not?”

Ambassador Bridget A. Brink: “Well thank you Senator Portman. I just want to start by thanking you, and also Senator Murphy, for your support of the Global Engagement Center and disinformation. I know that’s been a big effort of yours and it’s really important for Ukraine, but also for Slovakia and all these other countries that face this huge challenge.”

Senator Portman: “You answered my second question already. I am going to get back to that in a little bit.”

Ambassador Brink: “Okay. It is incredibly important that the supplemental move fast. I don’t know the latest, perhaps, but I understand it is moving. But what we are trying to do as an administration is move security items as fast as possible to Ukraine. So while we have already provided some $3.8 billion worth of security assistance, the needs are large. We are working closely with allies and partners on those needs and with Ukrainians, obviously, and also with you and your staffs. But it’s really important that we’re able to continue that. I think most people assess that these next few weeks, and maybe longer, are critical to the ultimate result of this war of choice.”

Senator Portman: “Let me ask you a little bit on how you intend to conduct yourself as ambassador. I’ve gotten the pleasure of working with a few ambassadors when we had a nominated and confirmed ambassador, and different styles a little bit – Geoffrey Pyatt and Marie Yovanovitch. Do you know Lieutenant General Terry Wolff who is the Ukraine Security Coordinator?”

Ambassador Brink: “I don’t not but I will look forward to meeting him.”

Senator Portman: “Would you intend to work closely with him?”

Ambassador Brink: “Of course, yes.”

Senator Portman: “I think it’s important that you use this role not just as a diplomatic role but really as a way to deal with the pressing issue of their defense of their country with things being on the line currently. I think General Wolff is going to need your help, and vice versa. Do you know General Dayton?”

Ambassador Brink: “No, I do not know General Dayton.”

Senator Portman: “He was a coordinator previously for the training efforts and also someone who I hope you will get to know and work with because I think that is an important part of your function, should you be confirmed, which I believe you will be – hopefully quickly. What do you think they currently need, militarily, that they’re not getting?”

Ambassador Brink: “I think that the needs are evolving so I would need to come back to you on what the precise needs are at this moment, but I know they’re changing. What they need to defend Kyiv is different what they need now to try to defend the east and the south. So I think it is an evolving situation and we need to work closely with the Ukrainians on this. I can say I having served in the Balkans, in many of the places these protracted conflicts are around the region, that it is my great pleasure to work with our military and I feel I have long worked well and closely with them and would see us as absolute partners in this effort.”

Senator Portman: “Excellent. There’s also obviously a humanitarian crisis and an economic crisis for the country right now so all these issues are important, but I do think that you will be the voice of our country over there and critical you be engaged in all those issues. On the Global Engagement Center – we did talk about that last week – I appreciate you saying you’ve seen the GEC work in Slovakia. We’re outgunned here, just as the Ukrainians are outgunned by a much larger Russian force and more weapons. With regard to disinformation, Russia, China, other countries are engaged deeply in this and spend billions of dollars on it. Can you tell us what the Global Engagement Center can do better to counter Russia’s efforts to justify its invasion and try to delegitimize the Ukrainian government?”

Ambassador Brink: “Sir, thank you again. I think we can just do more. More, more, more is what I would want because you’re absolutely right. I agree with you. We are outgunned, we’re out resourced, we’re outmaneuvered. We have to do as much as we can. It’s a challenge – disinformation is something that is pervasive in Europe and elsewhere and so we have to do as much as we can. We have be creative and innovative and something, sometimes, bureaucracies aren’t, but that’s what we need to do to deal with this. It is a very big threat to us and our way of life.”

Senator Portman: “Thank you Madam Ambassador. Thank you Chairman.”