On Senate Floor, Portman Calls on Administration to Take Five Actions to Help Ukraine Win the War Against Russia

March 21, 2022 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – This evening, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke on the Senate floor about how the United States and our allies can help Ukraine win the war against Russia. Portman recounted his time leading a bipartisan CODEL to Ukraine, commended the administration on actions thus far, and recommended five actions the administration should take to help Ukraine win. The world has seen maternity wards, humanitarian pathways, and shelters destroyed by indiscriminate Russian strikes – many of these actions constitute war crimes. This is the sixth consecutive week Senator Portman spoke on the Senate Floor on this issue.

Portman was a strong advocate for pre-invasion sanctions, and is now pushing for bipartisan sanctions on trade, banking, energy, and tax, in addition to more lethal weaponry. 

As Co-Chair of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus Portman stands in strong solidarity with Ukraine, and commends the bravery of President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.

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

“I come to the floor today to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they suffer through the brutal and cowardly Russian assault. I have spoken on the floor each of the last six weeks about the horrific events we have all watched unfold and what role the United States should play. Simply put, we need to do more. And we need to do it more quickly. As do our allies. As we talk this evening, the shelling and killing of innocent civilians continues in the dark of night in places like Kyiv, and Kharkiv, and Mariupol – a beautiful port city being reduced to rubble by a frustrated Vladimir Putin. He seems intent on destroying what he can't have because of the brave, outgunned Ukrainians who refuse to surrender and refuse to live under his despotic rule.

“Those heroic Ukrainian defenders of their homeland deserve our support. Even if they didn't, this bloody war launched by an authoritarian regime against a peaceful democratic neighbor matters to world freedom, to our own national security. It must not stand or else all of us in freedom-loving countries are at risk. As we talk this evening, the ruthless bombing continues. Something else is happening. President Biden is getting ready to cross the Atlantic to meet with our NATO partners to talk about next steps. Although nothing has done more to solidify the West than the ruthless Russian attacks, I commend President Biden for the important role he has played in helping keep the alliance together.

“Now I call on him to lead that alliance, to redouble their efforts, to stop the madness, to ensure that Russia is not rewarded for its war crimes. It is one thing keep the alliance together. It is another thing to lead the alliance out of its comfort zone to a more aggressive stance to actually win this war. I believe moving leaders to do more is possible because of all the deadly Russian escalation that we've seen but also because free citizens all around the world are shocked by the death and destruction that they see online, on TV, every day. And they're speaking up. I see this at home in Ohio but I see it all around the globe.

“I think leaders can be persuaded to do more. Over the past month, the administration itself changed its mind and ratcheted up some sanctions and military assistance we have advocated from both sides of the aisle from this Senate floor. To their credit, the administration reversed themselves and agreed to implement the Nord Stream 2 sanctions, to allow U.S. Stinger missiles to go to Ukraine directly from us, to impose the SWIFT banking sanctions, to ban oil from Russia, and to take away Russia's Most Favored Nation trading status with us.

“Now with Russia ramping up its brutal assault of targeting and killing thousands of innocent civilians, America and the free world must do more as they bomb maternity hospitals, and schools, and a shopping center in Kyiv last night, bomb shelters filled with children. Last week I led a bipartisan group of senators to Poland and to the Ukrainian border where we witnessed firsthand the pain that Russia is inflicting on innocent civilians. We talked to dozens of refugees, almost always Ukrainian women and children, sometimes grandmothers and grandchildren. They came to Poland with only a backpack or a suitcase and nothing else, leaving everything else behind. In tears, they begged us to close the skies so the bombing would stop. They told of apartments or homes being destroyed, of the heartbreak of leaving their husbands or sons or fathers behind to fight the invaders.

“So what more can we, and our allies do to help Ukraine win this war? Note I say win this war. If we act swiftly, I think we can still defeat the Russians and keep Ukraine as a viable democracy. If we do too little, thousands will die, as will the dream of Ukrainian democracy. The forces of evil will win and all of us will pay a price. Let me talk about five areas where I think we could do more to assist Ukraine. First, on the military side, we must redouble our efforts with urgency to provide Ukraine with the equipment, ammunitions, and where necessary, the immediate training to improve their air defenses and give them better offensive air capabilities. The decision whether to facilitate providing more MiG-29's from Poland and perhaps other allies in the region who have these Soviet-era airplanes has been hotly debated.

“In my view, we should have done it long time ago when we got the initial green light from the administration a few weeks ago. The Ukrainians have asked for them and I do not believe they are anymore escalatory than certainly the escalation that Russians are engaged in virtually every day. We now have reports of cluster bombs being used. We have reports of vacuum bombs being used against civilians. It's also no different than what we have done and continue to do with other weapon transfers, whether its Stingers, or Javelins or others. Remember, the Ukrainians are on defense here. They're just trying to protect their country. Give them what they say they need to defend themselves.

“I would hope that at least we could immediately facilitate spare parts and other assistance to keep the current Ukrainian planes flying. The Ukrainians have made it desperately clear that they need more air defense. We just learned today from public sources that the United States is providing SA-8's, an older Soviet-era defense system to Ukraine. Apparently this is equipment that we got years ago because it was the Soviet system, to be able to study it. We have that system and today – as of today we decided to send it to Ukraine. However, the same reporting also said that the more capable S-300 Soviet-era systems that we have are not being sent.

“Look, I'm very glad these systems are going to protect innocent civilians, but to me, this shows the lack of urgency that I was talking about earlier. Here we are on day 25 of this all-out war, people dying every single day, and finally we've looked into the closet and we have inventoried these incredibly important air systems and we're providing them? Where were they on day five or day 10 or day 15 or even day 20 with people dying, every one of those 25 days. And why are we not sending the A-300's? I don't know the answer to that. There may be an answer. There may be a reason I can't know what that answer is. But again to me, this is an example of us having to have the urgency to respond and doing more and doing it more quickly.

“The U.S. can and should facilitate the transfer of former Warsaw block anti-aircraft systems that Ukrainians know how to operate, like the S-300, like the SA-8's, the SA-10's and others. There are regional partners in the area, Eastern European countries that have these systems – without going into detail – we should also provide extra munitions to replenish existing anti-air batteries. Our partners in the region say they are willing. Let's facilitate it. Let's make it happen. Let's get the NATO countries that can help to help more. Over the weekend there are reports, as an example, that Slovakia and Turkey were willing to take such action. We’ve got to be sure that we are ensuring these transfers take place immediately. Of course, we must also keep sending Stinger missiles, which are effective in shooting down Russian helicopters and the lower-flying jets. We must find ways to quickly provide Ukraine with more armed drones, such as the Turkish TB-2, which has been very effective apparently and even one-use loitering munitions, which the Ukrainians know how to use and have been very effective with on the battlefield.

“Last week it was announced that the United States was sending 100 of these loitering munitions, one-use munitions, called the Switchblade. 100 will go very quickly. We should increase that number. Let's get the 100 there first and let's increase that number to give the Ukrainians more to be able to defend themselves. To our Israeli friends, I know this is controversial, but I would ask them to consider selling us or other countries, and we should agree to buy, their Harop drones which Ukraine could use right now. The bottom line is we need to flood the zone when it comes to providing Ukraine with military assistance. We are not being asked to fight this fight for them. They just want the tools to be able to defend themselves and have a chance, a fighting chance, to be able to win. There should be no gaps in our weapons transfers and we need to lead our NATO allies and others when it comes to providing and coordinating support.

“Second, we need more sanctions. We need to implement them faster. The sanctions have to bite now, not two weeks from now or two months from now. We need to remove all Russian banks' access to the global financial system. Russia must be financially cut off from the rest of the world if we are to have the effect that we want to have. Even without using our full sanction authority, we’ve already seen some of the pain that we can inflict. Wherever there are loopholes in these sanctions, it is not enough to go after individual banks such as the VTB and Sberbank bank. We are told that the Kremlin has already transitioned payments from these banks, through Rosbank, Unicredit and Rovsun. We need blocking sanctions on all of Russia's finance and defense industry as long as Russian forces are in Ukraine.

“We need to exert maximum pressure to be sure no money can be sent to Russia to fund its war efforts. We must implement full blocking sanctions on all Russian banks to ensure that energy transactions are not exempt from these sanctions. Russia should not be allowed to use its oil and gas profits to kill innocent Ukrainians. We can also target the way Russia, including individuals close to President Putin, currently evade sanctions. In 2020, when I was Chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations we published a bipartisan report showing how sanctioned Russian oligarchs continued to have access to the U.S. financial system. In this case, through the purchase of high values art. Two oligarchs we investigated were sanctioned in 2014, following Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

“You've heard sanctions weren't particularly effective. This is one reason. They laundered their money through art. They continued to purchase millions in art through auction houses and dealers in New York after they were sanctioned. In that report we recommended Congress should amend the Bank Secrecy Act to require art dealers to confirm the identity of buyers and sellers in transactions to ensure they are not using art purchases to launder money or evade sanctions. These are the same requirements we place on financial institutions. Those changes are now the more urgently needed than ever.

“The European Union, by the way, and United Kingdom recently closed this loophole by requiring businesses handling art transactions valued at 10,000 pounds or more to comply with anti-money laundering laws, including verifying the identity of seller, buyer, and ultimate beneficial owner of art so the purchase isn't being used to evade sanctions. Since the EU and the UK have tighten compliance, the United States, which has the largest art market in the world, becomes now the main target for sanctioned Russians to continue to evade sanctions and launder money through high value art purchases. If the administration doesn't move on this, we are currently drafting legislation to close this loophole in the United States Senate.

“Third, on tax treatment, we should suspend our tax treaty with Moscow and explore options to remove other tax benefits from Russian businesses. The United States has income tax treaties with a number of foreign countries to facilitate investment and prevent double taxation of residents and businesses, which operate in both countries. Under these tax treaties, residents, not necessarily citizens of foreign countries, are generally taxed at a reduced rate or exempt for U.S. income taxes on certain items of income. It’s important to note that these treaties reduce U.S. taxes for Russian residents and businesses, but generally don't reduce the taxes of U.S. citizens or U.S. treaty residents.

“Instead, they would reduce Russian taxes for U.S. citizens. President Biden has the constitutional authority to suspend our tax treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation. We need to pursue all options to isolate Russia and make it clear that there are consequences for these actions, the tax treaty is one more way to do that. We should also follow the U.K. and suspend exchange and sharing of tax information with Russia and Belarus. With Russia’s hostile actions towards Ukraine, we should no longer incentivize U.S. investment in Russia or provide preferential tax treatment for Russian investment in the United States.

“Fourth, on trade, there are two additional things we can do to bring pressure on President Putin and his allies. Access to our market is a privilege, not a right, and we should not give Russians the normal access. The House passed a law to suspend what's called Most Favored Nation or PNTR for Russia last week, which some in the Senate oppose because it doesn't contain a statutory ban on Russian energy imports. Currently the energy import ban can be undone at the whim of a president, rather than the legislative criteria about the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty and the cessation of hostilities. I agree we're putting it in statute. I think that would be a good idea. But I also believe the urgency of the moment means we have to find a way to stop preferred access to our market. Let's do it this week.

“The International Trade Commission should also bring the full might of U.S. trade remedy law to bear on Russian companies, which trade unfairly similar to how we treat Chinese companies. Last week I sent a bipartisan letter with Senator Brown to the ITC on this topic. The commission is required by law to consider all relevant economic factors which have a bearing on  the state industry in the United States. Given Russia's behavior, including its manipulation of trade flows in pursuit of maligned strategic objectives and exceptional involvement of the state in the domestic economy, we asked the commission to take these into account in cases involving Russia when they violate our trade laws.

“The Commerce Department should reclassify Russia as a nonmarket economy, making it easier to bring unfair trade cases against them. It is appropriate to reclassify them because up to 70 percent of their economy is now run by the government. Commerce was asked to reclassify in the fall, but retained Russia as a market economy, allegedly, after a Russian delegation pressured the Biden administration. In light of the invasion, Commerce should reconsider that decision and ensure that Russia is reclassified as a nonmarket economy. Now a handful of countries like China and Belarus are in that category.

“This means these countries don't have a free market, instead they have policies that restrict the of flow of capital, involve government in the running of the economy and don't allow wages to be set in free bargaining between labor and management. When a country is a nonmarket economy it means our trading forces have an easier time being tougher on those countries when they sell products here that are unfairly priced. It’s time to do it.

“Fifth, and maybe most important and most difficult, we need to lead our European allies on fully sanctioning Russia's energy sector. Russia's war machine is funded primarily through energy sales, including natural gas and oil to Europe. Probably the best way to persuade those persuadable in Russia is to cut off those resources, as we are doing here in the United States. It's going to be a lot more difficult for our allies in Europe to do that because many are dependent on Russian energy. But there are many steps the United States and other allies like Qatar can take to expand energy production here at home and help our allies abroad.

“LNG export contracts need to be finalized now and the export and import terminals quickly expanded. And that can be done. Further, the Treasury Department's announcement that sanctions against Russia's biggest banks, including VTB bank, do not apply to energy transactions until June 24. June 24 may be too late. That's unacceptable. We need to change that Treasury Department approach to sanctions against those biggest banks and ensure we are applying them to energy transactions as soon as possible. I would advocate to a similar approach in how we designated Iranian entities in 2018 when we left JCPOA. We did not issue sanctions waivers to European countries that continued to do business with Iran's economy and that forced those companies to leave Iran's market even though European governments weren't particularly supportive of that. It’s what happened.

“Some companies in Europe haven't done enough to diversify its energy future in light of this invasion, which they are now financing, again, through the purchase of Russian gas. It can't be business as usual. We need to figure out a way to stop that revenue. By the way, there is a connection between the Iran Deal and Ukraine. Under the new Iran Deal secondary sanctions will be lifted on the central back of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions, enabling transactions between Russia and Iran to include the Central Bank of Russia, Sever bank, and others. In other words, the Iran Nuclear Deal guarantees Russia can use a sanctions-free Iran as a sanctions evasion oasis. This should not stand.

“The administration needs to reverse course here, sanctioning Russia because of the barbaric war in Ukraine and then giving them a pass when it comes to the Iran Nuclear Deal is contradictory to our foreign policy interests. At the very least, this proposed treaty needs to be submitted to Congress as is required by law so that we can analyze that issue and make a decision. So we need to do more, and we need to do it quickly. I've outlined some of the actions we can take, and we should act fast to let the people of Ukraine know that we stand with them.

“The popular Ukrainian rallying cry, ‘Slava Ukraini,’ when translated into English is ‘Glory to Ukraine.’ Slava Ukraini. To which the response is ‘Glory to the heroes.’ ‘Heroyam Slava.’ And in the midst of this atrocity, there are so many heroes to glorify in Ukraine. The soldiers, professionals and civilians alike, doctors, nurses, firefighters, and the volunteers who are providing food and water and blankets. We pray for them all and we pray for their families. Godspeed to the people of Ukraine and their simple and profound quest, a battle for a free and independent Ukraine. We must show the world that America supports that simple quest, that we stand with Ukraine. Thank you, and I yield the floor.”

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