On Senate Floor, Portman Commends Passage of Ukraine Supplemental Package, Confirmation of US Ambassador to Ukraine & Importance of NATO Alliance
WASHINGTON, DC – Tonight, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor for the 13th consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman spoke about the swift passage of the Ukraine supplemental package that will replenish Ukraine’s defensive weaponry, as well as our stockpiles in the United States. Portman highlighted the United States’ renewed diplomatic presence in Ukraine with the U.S. Embassy reopening in Kyiv, and Ambassador Bridget Brink now confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Senator Portman noted the importance of the NATO alliance, Russian diplomatic and military defectors who have reversed course during this illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine, and also touched on President Biden’s first trip to Asia where he stressed China’s alliance with Russia and its threat in the Indo-Pacific.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and co-chair and co-founder of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Senator Portman has long been an advocate for Ukraine and continues to push for further aid and bipartisan action to counter Russian aggression.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Today marks exactly three months since Russia began its war on Ukraine. I've come to the Senate floor for what is now the 13th straight week since that time while the Senate has been in session to talk about this unprovoked, illegal, and brutal war that they are waging on our ally, Ukraine, a democratic and sovereign country. Since I spoke last week, we have had a very important development. At the end of the week, the Senate came together in a strong bipartisan vote to pass what’s called a supplemental funding bill for Ukraine. The vote was 86-11. It passed the House the week prior with a similar strong bipartisan vote. Congress in this legislation actually went above what the president had requested. He initially requested $33 billion and Congress decided to provide $40 billion to ensure that Ukrainians had the funding they needed through the fall. In combination with the help from about 40 different countries around the world, Ukrainians now have the ammunition and weapons, as well as the humanitarian economic support they need, to survive and also to continue their fight for the next several months. Importantly the supplemental spending bill will replenish what’s called the Presidential Drawdown Authority. It was depleted. That’s the authority that lets us very quickly transfer weapons from our own surpluses to the Ukrainians, and it’s been very effective. The legislation raised the Presidential Drawdown Authority cap to $11 billion, $3 billion over the president's request. Again, the notion is that this is going to be needed.
“The bill also includes $6 billion what is called the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a program I first authored in 2015 to enhance the Ukrainian military’s ability to the fight off Russian aggression. When we started that program Russia was only in this part of Ukraine and the line of contact was here in eastern Ukraine. Here are a couple of maps that shows the progress that has been made in pushing back as Russia has invaded Ukraine, starting on February 24th. All of this area here that is in blue was controlled by Russia at one point as was this lighter red area, the darker red area was what Russia took back in 2014 after Ukraine chose to look to the West, rather than to Russia, for alliances and support. So this is what they took in 2014. Then they came in on February 24th, with the hope of taking the entire country and they did control this territory. Everything you see in blue has been pushed back. It's no longer Russian-held territory. It's now back in Ukrainian hands. This is the map of today. There is progress being made around Kharkiv, this a beautiful city in this part of Ukraine. The blue you see here is where the Ukrainian military have recently pushed back the Russian forces. In one case, right up to the Russian border.
“You also see the same here in the eastern and more southern parts of Ukraine where more progress has been made. But there is fierce fighting all in this region. And in fact, recently, you can see where the Russians have made some progress in trying to cut off some of the Ukrainian troops. Initially they had hoped to make a bridge here to cut off troops in this area, thousands of them now, they are pushing through right here and making some progress. So it's a hot war and the Ukrainians are desperate to have enough ammunition to continue to fight that war and protect their homeland and have better weapons to be able push back against Russia. The end of this war has to be that Russia is pushed out of Ukraine. That has to be our objective. It's certainly one that the Ukrainians share. The successes against Russia in the battlefield is a testament to the bravery and the effectiveness of Ukrainians who are fighting to defend their freedom, fighting to defend their families, to defend their homeland. But it's also a success that is due to the effectiveness of our help, and particularly the Ukraine Security Initiative, over the last seven years, especially the training element of it. It was money well spent by U.S. taxpayers to ensure that, along with other NATO countries who provided funding for this as well, that there was a training component to ensure that the military would be more effective. And, you can see the results of it. They are outgunned, outnumbered and yet have been able to push Russia out of this part of Ukraine and are making some progress in these areas.
“The supplemental spending bill I talked about also includes $4 billion in foreign military financing to allow Ukraine to get American made weapons and equipment through a lend-lease type program. Importantly the supplemental also includes $3.9 billion to support enhanced U.S. troop deployments to Europe. That’s critical to me because it's never more important than now to ensure that we have the troops we need along the border here to be able to ensure that Russia knows that if they go beyond Ukraine we will respond and respond forcefully as NATO, all 30 countries of NATO. So we have reinforced our troop presence in Eastern Europe, places like Poland, places like Slovakia, Romania, and around the region, to be able to ensure that our Article 5 agreement under NATO, which is a mutual defense commitment, can be kept. Again, it’s not just us, but all the members of NATO. If the Russians make a further mistake and do what President Putin has talked about doing, going to places like the Baltics, Lithuania, and Latvia and Estonia, NATO will be there, and that should be a big deterrent. Of course, this legislation, this supplemental, was not inexpensive. $40 billion is a lot of money and it has got to be subjected to appropriate safeguards for transparency and accountability. Last week I spoke about many of these safeguards that some of us helped get into the legislation, including the critical role that Congress will play in critical oversight in providing regular oversight over these funds. I expect the administration to keep Congress promptly informed of how it intends to spend this money, as required by this law.
“Effective oversight to Ukraine will also require a strong diplomatic presence on the ground, so we have people who are watching how the money is being spent and can report back. I'm pleased that the administration heeded the Senate’s call to reopen our embassy in Kyiv last Sunday. So Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine, here in the middle of Ukraine, now has a U.S. Embassy presence. The officials from the embassy were here from Poland, some had gone to Lviv a little bit in the last few weeks, but now, as of this past week, we're back in Kyiv and we're open for business. By the way, that same day the Embassy opened, we reported out the new ambassador nominee for Ukraine, we haven't had an ambassador there for way too long, about a year and a half or so, and we actually then voted on her on the Senate floor, maybe the fastest nomination ever through this place, but that's very important. We unanimously confirmed Bridget Brink to be the Ambassador. She was the Ambassador to Slovakia. She’s been in Ukraine before as a foreign service officer. I think she is a very good choice. She is leaving her post in Slovakia and going right into Ukraine. Our diplomatic presence there is once again going to be in a strong position and, therefore, telling the rest of the world that the United States is here and here to stay. Now that Congress has provided this $40 billion to support Ukraine and to support our troops in the area, it's up to the administration to ensure that it's used effectively, particularly with regard to the military assistance. I encourage the administration to use these funds in accordance with the needs on the ground in Ukraine.
“We've got to be sure that we are giving them what they actually need. We have to listen to the Ukrainians who are fighting on the front lines. To me this would include an example of what is called the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS, that they are asking for. This enables them, and Ukraine, to sit back a little further and not be subject to the shelling from the Russian forces and yet to provide damage to some of the artillery that Russia is using against these cities – flattening these beautiful cities and killing so many civilians. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that if we stop providing certain this systems like MLRS that somehow we will therefore not be provoking Russia and that President Putin will gracefully acknowledge that gesture and somehow cease his assault or lessen his assault on Ukraine. That’s not going to happen. Let me be clear: Russia's unprovoked and brutal invasion of a sovereign and democratic Ukraine is the provocation here, not us, not the military assistance we're providing Ukraine just to be able to defend their homeland and their families. President Biden must be forward-leaning in providing military assistance to the Ukrainians that they need and make it clear that we are in this conflict until it ends, until Russian troops leave, until the bombardments end.
“If President Putin senses weakness, or equivocation, on our part or the part of our allies, he will intensify his attack on Ukraine. I want to speak for a moment about the broader situation in Europe. Back in 2014, Ukraine made this decision to ally with us, with Europe, with freedom, with democracy, rather than Russia and authoritarianism or tyranny. Russia did not take that well. Again, that's when they annexed Crimea here, and parts of the Donbas, Luhansk and Donetsk, but when they did that, the reaction of the West, frankly, was underwhelming. When President Putin launched this more comprehensive war on February 24th, he probably expected the same feckless response. The global community, when these two happened, really did not respond forcefully as we should have. Instead of getting the same response that he expected, President Putin initiated an abrupt reversal, particularly in European diplomacy and military policy. Previously Europe had prioritized avoiding any conflict with Russia by following practices that they believed would be seen by the Kremlin as non-confrontational. The European and the global approach including the U.S. approach to Russia and Ukraine changed when this unjustified and brutal assault began. Just as President Putin has weakened Russia's position, with this unprovoked invasion, the NATO alliance he tried to undermine has only grown stronger.
“In fact two new countries, Finland and Sweden, have officially applied for the 30 member strong NATO membership. In the aftermath of the invasion public support for joining NATO skyrocketed in Finland and Sweden. This is especially remarkable in Sweden, whose policy of neutrality dates all the way back to the Napoleonic Wars, well before World War II. But as President Putin has indiscriminately killed innocent men, women, and children in Ukraine and flattened some of its most beautiful cities, the Finnish and Swedish people have seen the benefit of NATO as a security blanket for them too. And I'm glad that Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. It is the world's most successful military alliance in history. Each of these two countries has an impressive military and a commitment to higher defense spending, so they have a lot of value to add to the NATO alliance. Their membership will further tilt the power base in Europe in NATO's favor, and that’s good, for peace and tranquility. It’s good for the United States. It’s good for our allies. I was pleased that the President hosted the leaders of both of those countries last week, and that Leader McConnell has also visited Finland and Sweden when he was overseas just a couple of weeks ago.
“I join the Leader in calling for the Senate to approve their membership bids to NATO before the August recess. Let's make the United States the first country to approve their applications for NATO membership. I understand that all 30 of our NATO allies have been supportive, with one exception, Turkey. They’ve expressed concerns about Finland and Sweden joining the alliance for issues unrelated to NATO, in my view. I trust these issues can be worked out among the three countries and encourage the administration to take a lead in moving this application forward. Joining NATO is a serious matter of war and peace. No one should be playing politics here. I look forward to supporting Finland and Sweden's NATO application when they are voted on here in this chamber. The Russian military has suffered substantial losses in this war already. Exact estimates are impossible to come by, but it appears that in just the first three months of this war, Russia has lost as many soldiers as it did in the nine year war that they waged in Afghanistan. Let's remember that President Putin thought this would be an easy victory. He thought the Ukraine's defenses would be torn apart and shattered in a matter of days and the Ukrainians would lose all hope and all morale. And he thought that his actions would split NATO, that the alliance would be unable to respond. Clearly the opposite has been the case and within Russia there has been dissent as well.
“Last week, Boris Bondarev, counselor at the permanent mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, resigned his post. His letter to his colleagues is telling. Again, this is from a senior Russian official. He said, ‘for 20 years of my diplomatic career, I have seen turns in our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24th of this year.’ Referring to the date when the invasion was launched. ‘The aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine,’ he said, ‘and in fact the entire western world is not only a crime against the Ukrainian people, but also perhaps the most serious crime against the people of Russia with a bold letter Z crossing out all hopes and prospects for a prosperous free society in our country.’ He's right. There have also been reports of many rank and file Russian soldiers who oppose this war and refuse to fight. And there is a recent report of an Russian officer who became so disillusioned with the lies, he had been told he resigned in protest. His own words are telling. He said, ‘we had a radio receiver and we could listen to the news.’ He said this to CNN, by the way. ‘That's how I learned the shops were closing in Russia and the economy is collapsing, I felt guilty about this but I felt even more guilty because we came to Ukraine.’ And he should. This resignation is telling as Russians from every part of society are beginning to see this war for what it is, unprovoked, tragic, shameful acts of aggression that have brought international condemnation and shame to Russia as a nation.
“I'm confident that this is the first of many acts of conscience by senior and junior Russian officials as they seek to restore some level of honor and dignity to their nation. Kremlin officials and commanders on the ground should know that the world is watching and the war crimes are being recorded. It is not too late to say no to orders to attack and kill your innocent neighbors in Ukraine. Now, as I've mentioned over the last several weeks as we've talked about that, there are a number of very important sanctions that are in place. We talked about trading sanctions, eliminating Russia's tax status, banking sanctions to crush the economy in Russia, desperate need right now for us to focus more on energy and boycotting energy supplies because that is the single most important sanction that has not been put in place in the way it needs to be. It's funding the Putin war machine. Europe is making progress on this. In fact, by August we're told they'll no longer be buying Russian coal as an example. But Russia is still getting from Europe $870 million a day in energy receipts and that is funding the Putin war machine. Especially when Russia not only continues its onslaught on Ukrainian combatants, but on noncombatants. These sanctions must be tightened. And what they are doing is committing war crimes. I call on the International Criminal Court, which has announced an investigation already, to follow in Ukraine's footsteps and immediately begin a war crimes tribunal. Now. Don't wait. Because it can have a deterrent effect if it's done now.
“We continue to hear the stories every day and the stories get worse and worse. I was glad to hear that a court in Kyiv began hearings against Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, the first Russian soldier to go on trial for alleged war crimes. He's accused of shooting and killing a 62-year-old civilian man in north eastern Ukrainian region of Sumy in late February, just a few yards from his home. He pled guilty. And just yesterday, yesterday he was sentenced to a life in prison. Again Russian officials and commanders need to see this. These war crimes are being committed, they’re being prosecuted and there will be consequences. Sadly this one case we talked about is just a drop in the bucket. Ukraine's prosecutor general said her office is currently investigating more than 10,000 alleged war crimes by Russian forces involving more than 600 suspects. It will take a vast amount of time and resources to hold all these criminals to account and the U.S. should help Ukraine in this regard. The supplemental spending package we talked about includes money to do just that –to investigate and document war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. My hope is that holding these Russians accountable will have that deterrent effect. Because of these terrible action, I believe Russia also deserves to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. I believe the Senate should vote on that. In Chechnya and Syria, now in Ukraine, Russia has committed atrocities that reflect a complete disregard for the value of human life.
“It has terrorized its neighbors and committed clear war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Let me be clear. What the Russian military is doing in Ukraine is not just a product of individual undisciplined units. Tacit approval for acts like these come from the top of the command chain. I have mentioned America's leadership state side and what everyday Americans have done in light of this Russian aggression and their support for Ukraine. It's truly impressive. What's happening in my home state of Ohio and around the country. The contributions in so many ways, the medical supplies that have been sent, the personal vanity kits that have been sent, the amount of food that's been voluntarily given through the World Central Kitchen and others. But tonight I want to close with a few thoughts on our leadership abroad as President Biden is wrapping up his first trip to Asia. First, I commend the president for taking this trip and for working with our allies. As China continues to advance its interest, not only throughout the Indo-Pacific, but around the globe, it is so important that the United States help lead freedom-loving countries in countering their malign actions too. I visited the region last month with some of my colleagues and my take-away was our partners in the region have a new found interest in working with us, aligning with us, particularly with what's going on with regard to China's aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I also think that one of the best ways to push back against what China is doing and considering doing, particularly with regard to Taiwan, is for us to win in Ukraine. Russia being defeated in Ukraine will affect what happens in the Indo-Pacific region. China right now is entirely aligned with Russia. Their joint statement earlier this year says, ‘as the invasion was being planned, friendship between our two states has no limits. There no forbidden areas of cooperation.’ We are now seeing China's attempt to extend their reach with a base in the Solomon Islands, as an example. We heard about this when we were over there. They have negotiated in secret an security agreement to allow Beijing to send military personnel to this new Pacific ally of theirs and base naval vessels potentially on the islands. This would be terrible for the region, particularly for Australia. Their eastern border is only about 1,200 miles away from the Solomon Islands.
“In Ukraine, we have shown strong leadership. We must not stop now when it comes to our allies across the globe. It doesn't matter if it's Russia or China. We must be the beacon of strength for the free world and help bring people together. To do so we must also start thinking about what it will take to aid Ukraine in the long-term. I'm not talking about nation building here, but I am talking about helping them in terms of this protracted conflict with Russia and ensuring that we do rebuild a democratic and free Ukraine. Thinking ahead in this fashion may seem premature to some, but I do believe it can save resources in the long-run about thinking about how to plan for that now. In short, we should plan for the possibility of a longer conflict than we had originally anticipated. Again, our role in Ukraine is essential. But it's a role that combines us with so many other partners around the world. Again over 40 countries are helping right now in terms of assistance to Ukraine. We are not the world's policemen. But we are kind of like the world's sheriff and bringing together that posse of other freedom loving countries is so critical for us to do, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific region or whether it's with regard to Ukraine. We've had tremendous success in terms of bringing people together to stand for freedom, to stand for democracy, and to stand for the rights of the Ukrainian people. With that, I yield back my time.”