On Senate Floor, Portman Commends Aid From Allies For Ukraine, Calls on Senate to Pass Stand-Alone Ukraine Emergency Funding Legislation This Week
WASHINGTON, DC – Tonight, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor about Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine. This is the 10th consecutive week Portman has spoken on the Senate floor to highlight Russian war crimes while the Senate is in session. Portman commended the security assistance provided to Ukraine by our allies in Europe and around the globe, and called on the Senate to swiftly pass additional emergency supplemental funding to support Ukraine this week.
Portman also spoke about his efforts to seize, not just freeze Russian assets through his bipartisan RELIEF Act as well as his efforts to appoint a Ukraine Security Assistance Coordinator. The administration heeded Portman’s bipartisan efforts and appointed such a coordinator and endorsed seized Russian assets toward humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid for Ukrainians.
Earlier this year, Portman visited the Polish-Ukrainian border and met firsthand with refugees seeking safety from their war-torn homeland. Portman has been a consistent voice for Ukrainians, refugees, and all those standing up to President Putin’s war machine.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I come to the senate floor today once again to talk about what is happening in Ukraine. This is the tenth time in the ten weeks of session since before the invasion started that I have come to the floor to talk about the atrocities being committed in Ukraine by this brutal and unprovoked invasion from Russia and to talk about more effective ways for us to help the Ukrainian people. I just spoke to the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova. She started by thanking me, on behalf of the Ukrainian people, really thanking the American people and saying that they appreciate all of the help, not just the funding and the weapons, but the moral support that the people of Ukraine feel from the people of the United States of America. That made me proud.
“But she also talked about the desperate need right now to provide Ukrainian soldiers with the heavy weapons they need to confront the new fight in Ukraine, the need to confront Russia as Vladimir Putin continues his brutal campaign to kill Ukrainian citizens, to flatten Ukrainian cities. Just today, Lviv, which is way over here in western Ukraine, was attacked again. So Russia says they're going to focus over here. Once again, they're lobbing missiles into Lyiv. Once again, they've attacked Odessa in the south. Hoping, I suppose, to flatten Odessa as well as they have done with Mariupol, and killed there somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 innocent civilians, according to the latest reports we have. Ukraine has been an independent and sovereign country since 1991. They're not part of Russia.
“In 2014, the people of Ukraine made a very conscious choice, to turn to the west, to get out from under the Russian thumb altogether. They wanted freedom and democracy, to move away from tyranny and corruption. They wanted to be like us here in America. That's one reason so much of the free world has rallied around Ukraine, because this is about a country that is seeking freedom, free enterprise, the ability to gather freely, free speech. I was an election observer here in 2014, right after they made this decision, and we saw a fair election, where a president was elected by the people, with huge voter turnout. Again, that's one reason we feel this connection to Ukraine, as do the rest of the free world. Ukraine's armed forces continue to perform well, but as this map shows the fight is fierce right now.
“The dark red here is Ukrainian territory that was taken by Russia back in 2014. So, this includes Crimea. It includes Donetsk, Luhansk. The lighter red is the Ukrainian territory Russia has seized during this latest invasion, during this war. In the light blue area is where Ukrainian troops have effectively countered the Russian offensive and pushed Russian forces out of territory. Ukraine won a divisive battle here, as an example, in Kyiv. You can see where they pushed the Russian forces out. The Kremlin at that time had as a strategic objective seizing Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and also other major cities all around the country. They wanted to force the government, the democratically elected government out, to overthrow the government of President Zelenskyy.
“Instead, because of this effective Ukrainian resistance, Russia has been forced to settle for these more limited objectives, even as they continue to bomb cities all around Ukraine. They now want to consolidate the Donbas region and create a land bridge from Crimea up to Transnistria. They want to cut off one of the greatest exporters, Ukraine, from any access to the sea, to make them land locked so they cannot have an effective economy. Our goal must be to stop Russia from achieving its invasion goals and push them out of the territory of this free and independent country, Ukraine, our ally. This is a very dangerous point in this battle. While the Russians have made incremental gains in the east, they have not achieved the decisive breakthrough that they want, thanks to the toughness and tenacity of the Ukrainian forces, but it is a tough fight, and the Ukrainians are outgunned.
“We must do all we can to keep Russia from a breakthrough until heavier weapons pledged by the United States and other allied nations can reinforce Ukrainian positions. Our howitzers, artillery, are starting to arrive, but only starting. My hope is that by reinforcing Ukrainian positions with these heavier weapons, that will allow Ukraine not just to defend itself, but to be able to rollback this Russian invasion and reclaim this territory. Late last week I was pleased that the Biden administration formally requested emergency supplemental funding that will provide needed military, humanitarian, and economic aid for Ukraine. This proposal, by the way, included $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a bipartisan initiative I have long spearheaded. Funding for this initiative is used to train, equip, and provide support for the Ukrainian government and military. It was crucial in helping Ukraine prepare for the current fight, and it's crucial now.
“As the president has requested, there is also drawdown authority in this legislation. Now, that's what the president is currently using to provide the howitzers I talked about, and other military assistance. There is $5 billion of additional presidential drawdown authority in this request. The existing presidential drawdown authority has been expended. I just checked with the ambassador again, just before making this talk. She indicates that out of the $3.3 billion that was in the previous presidential drawdown authority to provide weapons to Ukraine, there is roughly $150 million left. In other words, they need this supplemental spending package now. It cannot wait. Not at this crucial time in the battle. I'm encouraged by the administration's requests for military assistance because I think, assuming we approve it and get this done quickly, it will send a very important message to the world, and most importantly to Vladimir Putin, that America is in this fight for long haul.
“The humanitarian aid is also desperately needed to complement the remarkable work that’s being done in Ukraine by so many great religious and nonprofit groups. Some you know, Samaritan's Purse, as an example. Last night, Jose Andres, who is the founder of what's called the World Central Kitchen, told me they have now provided 18 million meals to Ukrainian refugees, both in country and out of country. And they have 12,000 volunteers that have been engaged to do this. They're not asking for money from American taxpayers, but they are providing incredible help, so many of these great groups. I'm also encouraged that the administration heeded our bipartisan calls and appointed a Ukraine Military Assistance Coordinator, Lieutenant General Terry wolf. This followed a letter that I sent with senator Shaheen, Wicker, and Durbin with the goal of cutting through the red tape to ensure that the right weapons get to Ukraine and they get there quickly.
“When I asked Secretary Blinken last week who Lieutenant General Wolf would be reporting to as coordinator of the military assistance, in order to make this whole process work more smoothly and help the Ukrainians more, he was uncertain. I will state today that I hope that the coordinator, Lieutenant General Wolf, will be reporting directly to the Commander in Chief. Why? Because there are so many agencies and departments involved, and the whole idea is to have one person who has the president's ear, who is able to get stuff done quickly, without the bureaucracy. I know President Biden believes that we ought to get this military equipment and other assistance to Ukraine immediately. In the context of this significant additional funding request for Ukraine, to be able to defend itself, it's important to note that they're not just relying on us. We're not the only country providing military assistance to Ukraine.
“In the past few weeks, we have seen allies and nations in Europe and around the world come together and increase their military aid, and I commend them for that. Last Thursday, after weeks of debate, I was very pleased to see that the German Bundestag, which is their parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favor, 586-100, of sending heavy weapons to Ukraine. This is a breakthrough for Germany. They have now woken up to the serious threat that Russia poses to European security, and the Germans are now assuming more responsibility for defense of their own backyard. Good for them. We need them. Additionally, the Polish government has now transferred even more Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine. Again, heavy equipment they need in the Donbas. Slovakia has sent air defense systems. Our great allies in the United Kingdom have been tremendous supporters of Ukraine since before the invasion, including anti-tank and anti-air weapons that have been used to devastating effect on the battlefield. They've sent humanitarian aid and armored vehicles.
“The Netherlands has also been very helpful by sending Stinger anti-air missiles that helped Ukraine protect the sky again Russian superior air power. Turkey has provided armed drones that have proven deadly effective at neutralizing Russian tanks, vehicles, and surface ships. I commend Turkey for that. Even on the other side of the globe, democracies are stepping up and providing military aid to Ukraine, including bush master armored vehicles from Australia, bullet proof vests from Japan and other military equipment from South Korea. The lists of those countries who are providing lethal assistance or humanitarian aid is over now 40, and grows every day, as freedom-loving nations see what's happening here. They see President Putin's actions for what they are, an assault on freedom and democracy, a brutal assault.
“Again, the next few weeks could be a tipping point, but Ukraine is finally starting to get the necessary weaponry from the free world to have a chance to actually succeed in pushing Russia out of their territory. The new Ukraine funding bill is being scrubbed right now for issues or problems, which is appropriate. We want to be sure, for example, that the direct economic support has the anti-corruption guardrails we've had in it in the past. The Department of Agriculture funding has to be scrubbed to ensure it actually helps Ukraine. But the scrubbing has been going on for almost a week now, and it's time for us to move this legislation. I encourage the Senate democratic leadership to bring to the floor this Ukraine funding bill this week. Not combined with other measures, but as a standalone piece of legislation. Not tied to COVID funding or other unrelated priorities, including Title 42 and the border, which I feel strongly about, or other issues, including issues to do with Afghanistan and the parolees.
“Let's keep other issues off this legislation. Why? Because it becomes a political football. It will be impossible to pass quickly. We have time to deal with those other issues as well, and we should, but our allies in Ukraine are desperate for assistance and they need it now. At this crucial time in this battle. Adding other politically charged issues to this request will slow it down and delay the lethal aid and, in the end, will cost the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians at the hands of the ruthless Russian attacks. On the sanctions front, I'm pleased that this past week the administration is finally saying they will move forward in seizing, not just freezing, Russian assets in the United States. Last Thursday, the administration announced a streamlined process for seizing assets and finding a legal way to repurpose those assets to help the Ukrainian people. Good for them.
“I've called for this in legislation I introduced five weeks ago with Senator Bennett of Colorado, our RELIEF act would ensure seized Russian funds go to support the humanitarian needs in Ukraine, which is just and appropriate. By the way, other countries have already done this. The Russians continue to commit war crimes and atrocities against the innocent people of Ukraine. Late last week, Ukrainian authorities filed criminal charges against ten individual Russian soldiers accused of taking civilians hostage and torturing them in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Many of you have seen the videos. This is the first such move by prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by Russians. All 10 were noncommissioned officers and privates from Russia's 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, one of the units that took part in the months-long occupation of Bucha.
“I call on the International Criminal Court, that has announced an investigation, to follow in Ukraine's footsteps and immediately begin an actual war crimes tribunal. The evidence of war crimes is clear and there should be no delay. By holding Russians accountable now, the hope is there will be some deterrent effect to avoid additional war crimes being created. Last week, Secretary Blinken in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the new budget request talked about the request for additional funding of $5 million for what’s called the Global Engagement Center. This is an organization that Senator Murphy of Connecticut and I cofounded with legislation to combat disinformation abroad. Unfortunately, this very modest increase will not adequately address the massive disinformation efforts by the Kremlin, let alone the world. In this hybrid war in Ukraine, it's not about just kinetic military action, it's also about a massive disinformation campaign. They are bombarding Ukraine with disinformation that must be confronted.
“The Global Engagement Center is established to do just that. Unfortunately, it has been two years since there was a coordinator appointed by a president to lead this Global Engagement Center. This gap in leadership is unacceptable, and I urge the president to immediately appoint a person to this role. The efforts we talked about tonight so far – the heavy weapons, the security assistance, the prosecution of war crimes, and the seizing rather than freezing of Russian assets – are all steps in the right direction. However, further steps have to be taken if we're going to stop the Kremlin from being able to finance this war effort. The biggest problem by far is energy. Energy is Russia's number-one export. Forty to 50 percent of the Russian budget is funded by energy receipts coming back into the country.
“President Putin, of course, has long used natural gas as an energy weapon against Europe. Last week he directed the gas company, Gazprom, to stop providing natural gas to Poland and to Bulgaria. The natural gas supply from Russia was suspended because of Poland's and Bulgaria's refusal to pay in Rubles, Russia's currency, which would help bolster Russia's economy and make it easier for them to finance this war. Bulgaria and Poland should be commended for not bowing to Vladimir Putin's wishes. This is also a significant opportunity for the United States to step up further and help our European allies to wean themselves off of Russian energy. The United States of America has the tools and resources to help our allies accomplish this. We have a tentative agreement to do so. The United States has already halted the import of Russian energy. I now commend Lithuania and Estonia for recently doing the exact same thing. Poland has indicated they would like to do the same.
“In order to encourage Europe to end its dependency on Russian oil and gas, America must act now to help ensure there is a more abundant supply of energy resources on the global market for purchase by Europe and other countries. Specifically, we need to expand U.S. production of natural gas that will help stabilize the market and provide liquefied natural gas to Europe and reduce energy costs for consumers. Most importantly, it will stop the flow of funding to Russia's war machine that is killing innocent Ukrainians every single day. Together, working with Europe, we can end the approximately $870 million a day, $870 million a day, that Europe is sending to Russia to help fund the war machine. We must do so immediately by expanding natural gas production here and our infrastructure here to provide Europe with the promised liquefied natural gas as an alternative to Russian gas. But more generally, we've got to support all of our domestic producers here in the United States through a robust, all-of-the above energy policy that includes fossil fuels, renewables, carbon capture technologies, nuclear power, hydropower, hydrogen, and energy efficiency.
“Instead of recognizing that Putin is using energy as a weapon and responding appropriately, unfortunately the Biden administration has acted to make it more difficult for domestic energy production. These actions include an increase of taxes on energy production proposed in the president's budget, restricting new leases on federal lands and waters for oil and gas production, rewriting the definitions of the Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS as it’s called, which could add significant time and complexity to permitting new energy projects. As I raised directly with Secretary Blinken last week during his time before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, these domestic policies that the administration is pursuing are having a direct and negative impact on our national security and the security of our allies abroad. We need to produce more right now to be able to ensure our national security and their national security is protected.
“The ruble, the Russian currency, has just about fully recovered from its pre-invasion value, in part because Russia is still bringing in revenues from the sale of energy. Our sanctions have left Russia's biggest economic lifeline largely untouched. Again, energy sales, specifically to Europe. In addition to cutting off natural gas and the revenue that fuels the Russian war machine, we need to tighten up bank sanctions as they relate to energy. Sanctions for energy transactions don't go into effect against Russian banks, including the VTB Bank, until June 24th. These sanctions should have gone into place weeks ago. They should certainly go into place now. President Biden must lead our allies to do whatever it takes to help Ukraine win and the administration should make clear that their objective is for Ukraine to push the forces of Russia out of the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Remember, Ukrainians are not asking for us to fight for them. But they are asking us to help them fight for themselves. We've got to do that so they have a chance to win.
“Last month I was at the border of Ukraine and Poland, and I was able to talk to a number of Ukrainian refugees. Through their tears, they spoke of their homes being destroyed, their loved ones killed and the pain of being separated from their husbands and fathers who had stayed behind to fight. Almost every refugee was either a woman or a child, grandparents with their grandchildren. I also saw the heroic efforts and the amazing generosity of spirit from the Polish people who were taking these Ukrainian refugees literally into their homes, to feed them, give them a roof over their head. Yesterday I joined my colleagues Chris Coons and Roy Blunt in introducing a resolution to commend and recognize Poland's efforts in welcoming Ukrainian refugees and supporting the Ukrainian resistance. Poland has been amazing. Since Russia's invasion began more than two months ago, more three million Ukrainians have fled across the border into Poland. We are so thankful to them for opening their hearts and their homes and for continuing to donate their time and resources to help the refugees.
“I want to close my remarks today with talking about why the United States has a special obligation to support Ukraine in light of Russia's brutal and illegal invasion. It's important that we not forget the Budapest Memorandum signed by Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom and Ukraine in 1994. After the fall of the Soviet Union under this 1994 memorandum, a newly independent Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons, but they did so in return for an ironclad commitment from all these signatories – the United States, the UK, and Russia –to respect and ensure Ukraine's territorial integrity and independence. This is what makes Russia's invasion and veiled threats of nuclear weapons particularly outrageous. Russia made a commitment to respect Ukraine's territorial and independence in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. Now Russia invaded Ukraine and is threatening to use nuclear weapons against the Ukrainians. This war is a gross violation of the Budapest Memorandum and of course Russia's other international commitments, such as the United Nations charter. For these transgressions, it's now time for the international community to strip Russia of its privilege of sitting on the U.N. Security Council and other bodies of international representation. And Russia should be deemed a state sponsor of terror.
“There is reporting that Russia believed the invasion would split and weaken the NATO alliance. Instead, as we've seen, Russia's brutal attacks on a neighboring democracy have actually galvanized and strengthened the resolve of NATO and the free world in general and will likely lead to expansion with Finland and Sweden soon joining the NATO alliance. What the United States is doing to help Ukraine with military, humanitarian, and economic assistance and rallying our allies to do the same is critically important, particularly at this time where the battle is at a critical stage. It's critically important – it's important not just because it fulfills our commitment under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, but because it's in our national interest as the leader of the free world to stand with our allies.
“There was a speech once written that was never given. It was meant to be delivered by President John F. Kennedy on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. The day that he was killed. The speech was profound and very simple. It said, we, in this country, in this generation, by destiny rather than choice, are the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. By destiny rather than choice. When democracies are under attack by authoritarian regimes, history says, when America leads, others will join, and we are victorious in protecting freedom. In this instance, in this critical point in Ukraine, we must continue to lead the free world in standing with Ukraine until their final victory. I yield back my time.”