On Senate Floor, Portman Commends Ukrainian Resilience in the Face of Russian Attacks, Urges Continued Global and Domestic Support for Ukraine
WASHINGTON, DC – Tonight, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor about Russia’s continued war on Ukraine. This is the 11th consecutive week Portman has spoken on the Senate floor to highlight the efforts of the brave Ukrainian people in the face of Russian attacks while the Senate is in session. Portman commended the Biden administration’s support for a stand-alone Ukraine supplemental package and noted the supportive actions of our NATO allies with defensive military support to aid Ukrainian armed forces. Portman has long supported Ukraine emergency supplemental legislation to aid Ukraine as the emergency funding, at this point in the war, is critical to Ukraine.
Portman also spoke about humanitarian efforts in Ohio through nonprofits, fundraisers, and community partnerships to send much-needed medical supplies to Ukraine, such as first aid kits.
Earlier this year, Portman visited the Polish-Ukrainian border and met firsthand with refugees where he served meals with Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and saw firsthand the good work being done by those supporting Ukraine.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I come to the floor today to talk again about the illegal, totally unjustified and unprovoked, and brutal attack on Ukraine by Russian forces. This is the 11th week in a row that I’ve come to the Chamber to talk about this because I think it’s really important that the American people know what’s going on over there and that we rally to the defense of our allies in Ukraine.
“This week is the 77th anniversary of what’s called VE Day, that’s the day when the war in Europe ended in World War II. The United States finally led the allies to defeat the tyranny of Nazi Germany and liberate millions of people. And then in the Cold War, we led the world again to defeat the encroachment of Soviet communism on Eastern Europe, and again millions of people were liberated, including Ukrainians. We cannot forget this because as we look at Ukraine, what do we see? The same thing, people who yearn to be free. That’s all they want, is to live in freedom, in their own sovereign, independent country. And once again, the United States and our allies are standing with the Europeans fighting to hold on to their freedom in the face of this illegal, unprovoked, and brutal attack.
“When Vladimir Putin spoke at ceremonies in Russia this week to commemorate the same VE Day, he used it to justify Russia’s invasion, saying and I quote, ‘The danger was growing day by day, so Russia gave a pre-emptive response to the aggression.’ Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The Ukrainians were never the aggressor. The Ukrainians just want to live in peace with their neighbors, including with Russia.
“Here is a map of Ukraine today. This is what’s been going on. The dark red, you’ll see here is what the Russians took in 2014, the year that Ukraine decided definitively that they wanted to turn to the West, to be a free democratic country. Russia responded with this- taking over Crimea, taking over the Donbas. The light red is what they have taken in this latest invasion and what they intend to take according to their military generals who have spoken is a much bigger area here. The blue, of course, is where the Ukrainians have pushed back. Where they have gone on the counter-offensive forces have actually pushed the Russians out around Kyiv, around the Northern part of the country and right now, as you can see, in various parts of the Donbas regions including around this town of Kharkiv. Now, Kharkiv is an interesting situation. It’s actually a sister city to Cincinnati, Ohio, my hometown. I was on the sister city committee decades ago when we developed that relationship. They have a beautiful river running through the city. It was and will be in the future a beautiful city. But now, as these Ukrainians are in the fight of their lives, just to keep their democracy, you see what’s happening in Kharkiv.
“The Ukrainians are beginning to make progress, both to the north of Kharkiv and here to the south and to the east. And it’s possible that the Ukrainians could actually push the Russians back far enough so that the city itself could be out of artillery range of the Russians. That would be great. Because right now the people of Kharkiv, like so many other people in places like Mariupol, of course, are being attacked by the Russians by artillery every night and every day. So, if they could get the Russian forces pushed back beyond that period they could get relief services to the civilians, food, and water that were previously denied by the Russians. And I think it may also force the Russians to make a decision. They would have to decide between addressing Ukraine’s counter-offensive near Kharkiv and expanding their forces over here, which they’ve said they want to do. I think if they do that, and expand their forces, they are going to be risking their communication and supply lines here being cut off by Ukrainians. So will see what happens, this is a crucial time in the battle, we are at a turning point. And I guess that’s really my point. We are being asked to look at legislation that’s been sent to us by the administration called the Ukraine Supplemental Funding Bill at a time when there is a crucial battle going on and could be a turning point in this broader war.
“Last week, I spoke with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. I’ll be speaking to her again tomorrow morning. She made the point that the Presidential Drawdown Authority, that’s the funding they are currently using from the United States is just about depleted. So it was about $3.3 billion in military aid that the president had the authority, given to him by Congress to draw down some of our resources to be able to provide to Ukraine. As of last week, she told me that that $3.3 billion is just about depleted and therefore a new authority is critically needed right now. You don’t want to have a gap, particularly with regards to ammunitions being able to ensure that there’s more effective weaponry, the heavy weaponry that they are now using in places like this, here and here can continue to have the ammunition that’s needed to continue the fight.
“I also spoke late last week to Bridget Brink, she is the current Ambassador to Slovakia and a seasoned Foreign Service professional, who the Biden administration has now nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador here in Ukraine. We haven’t had an ambassador there in a year, maybe two years. I have been asking the Biden administration, pushing the Biden administration, to send an ambassador to Ukraine for over a year. I did the same with the Trump administration and we didn’t have any ambassador there for a while. And even with the Obama administration to try to ensure that we had a representative. Why? It’s so important to have an ambassador there, you need somebody at the highest level to be able to have the Ukrainian officials to have someone they can work with directly who can answer questions, make commitments, and be someone who is authorized by the president. It’s also helpful to have that information on the ground and can relay information to our teams in Washington. At least 17 other countries, by the way, have returned their diplomatic personnel to the capital, Kyiv, we have not. We are apparently going to do that soon, I hope so.
“I know that the ambassador nominee would like to go back to Kyiv. I know a lot of members of the team- because I’ve met with them in Poland. They are over here in Poland for the most part, going into Lahav sometimes. But we need to get back to Kyiv. In terms of what’s going on in the battle field, let’s talk more about what’s happening in the battlefield and the importance of the weapons and material support we have already provided and what we must continue to provide. Since Feb. 24th, when this latest Russian invasion began, we have now provided $13.6 billion in military, humanitarian, and economic aid for Ukraine and this latest request for funding from the White House for $33 billion. So it’s even more.
“There were reports that this latest supplemental would be tied to other things, particularly the COVID funding that the administration is also eager to get passed. I was strongly against that because when to tie it up with other things it inevitably slows it down and this is absolutely urgent. I was pleased to see that about an hour ago, President Biden released a statement saying he now supports separating Ukraine funding and COVID funding. I commend him for that, it's good news, again we have seen so many times around here, that you combine things and it slows things down. It creates a political football and goes back and forth and this is desperately needed assistance. That’s going to determine whether some Ukrainian civilians and some of their military forces live or die because this aid is so critical to their success.
“After Vladimir Putin’s claim of success during this week’s VE ceremonies in Moscow, it is very likely, in my view, that he is going to feel the need to call up a fuller mobilization of his military and engage in even more brutality, if that’s possible, against the innocent civilians in Ukraine. So all the more reason for us to pass this latest spending request now and get this military equipment to the Ukrainians who need it so desperately. Some Americans may wonder if we can make a difference in protecting freedom in Ukraine without directly engaging the American military or engaging with Russia. I would say we can. I would say we have made a difference. The U.S. and our NATO allies and other allies around the world have already made a positive contribution to Ukraine’s success in pushing back the Russians- a much larger army with more weapons of every kind.
“Prior to this latest invasion on Feb. 24th, the United States and some allies shipped these Javelin anti-tank weapons, Stinger anti-air missiles, and other small arms and ammunition to Ukraine to be able to counter what we thought was going to happen, and did, which was Russian battalion tactical groups coming into the country. And it was effective, it was effective in Kyiv, and in other areas of Ukraine to be able to push back as you can see. These Russian units were essentially light mechanized formations which contain armored anti- infantry vehicles and medium-to-heavy tanks along with infantry and light artillery. The first two months of the war have proved that the Russians were not very effective with their coordination of these groups, and because of their tactical incompetence, they were largely defeated up here by the more proficient and effective Ukrainian military. Their mobility at the tactical level, among the Ukraine forces, is the core of NATO doctrine in something called combined arms warfare – essentially the coordinated employment of tanks, artillery, and infantry to defend or seize territory.
“Since 2014, when Ukraine turned away from tyranny and toward the West and Russia immediately invaded, the threat of a larger scale invasion was clear. So, Ukraine’s forces began to train and learn alongside U.S. troops and other NATO allies. And again, we worked with the Ukrainian armed forces to transition from a Soviet-style military to one that emphasized the initiative of noncommissioned officers and mission style orders and better coordination between these groups. Thanks to an extensive effort by our military and that of our NATO allies, the Ukrainians were able to build a military that was proficient, tactically agile and was able to not only withstand the initial Russian onslaught but defeat Russian forces around Kyiv.
“In the past month the Ukrainian armed forces have repositioned to the East taking with them the same tactic and the same coordination, and by using these small teams trained by NATO to coordinate tactical reconnaissance provided by drones and highly accurate artillery, they have again thwarted Russian attempts to gain more ground in the East. Of course nothing substitutes for the bravery and grit of the Ukrainians, particularly of the Ukrainian soldiers. Professional and civilian soldiers alike. They are defending their homeland fiercely and that’s the single most important element to their success. But, we owe a great debt to our troops who trained the Ukrainians—many of whom were National Guardsmen perhaps from your state—and our British, Canadian and other NATO partners who helped the Ukrainian military become the effective battlefield force we see today. So I as this, we need to know that the help we are giving makes a difference, not just the weapons, but also the training.
“The training of the armed forces and equipping them was one done through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI). This was back in 2016 I actually modified a McCain amendment to create this new initiative. Since 2016, USAI has provided more than $1.6 billion for training, equipment, advisory efforts, maritime awareness, command and control functions, and cyber defense and strategic communications. Most importantly, it helped teach Ukraine mobility on the battlefield again, a mode of warfare that was superior to Russia’s.
“The first phase of our support provided the Javelins and Stingers we distributed along with organizing the transfer of existing defense stocks of Soviet-era weaponry in Eastern Europe to Ukraine. But these Soviet-era weapons and ammunition were always finite, and the war exhausted a lot of those supplies. So this Ukraine supplemental request from the White House is understandably larger because Ukraine now requires heavier weaponry and ones that are NATO standards. So more funds will be required to transport at greater distances, and to train Ukrainian forces on these weapons, and to continue to replenish ammunition. So it’s more of a traditional battlefield down here requiring that heavy, more expensive, NATO standard weaponry.
“While the United States and our allies are providing significant resources to this cause, the costs imposed on Russia are much greater. What do I mean by that? Russia has committed more than 70 percent of its total combat power in Ukraine and much of it is being degraded and continues to be degraded. This raises an interesting point: Let’s remember that Russia directly threatened military intervention against some of our NATO allies, including the Baltics, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, including Poland and other allies we are legally obligated to protect under NATO Article 5.
“Downgrading Russia’s army in Ukraine and supporting Ukraine’s armed forces is a pretty effective way to ensure that Russia does not have the ability to attack NATO and instantly begin a direct US - Russia confrontation. Some we wanted to avoid. And Speaking of NATO, it is encouraging that Sweden and Finland are refusing to be intimidated by these Russian threats and are looking to join the alliance instead. At the end of last week, Finland already conducted military exercises with NATO military units from the United States, UK, Estonia, and Latvia. I am proud that we are supporting this effort militarily. And Finland is now upgrading its Air Force. This is good. The Senate should immediately confirm NATO membership of both nations as soon as it is before us.
“It’s important to note that it’s not just the U.S. government and our allies' governments that is supporting Ukraine in its hour of need since this terrible conflict began, everyday Americans across the country have stepped up to provide much-needed assistance to Ukrainian defenders, refugees, and first responders. In March, Ohio governor Mike DeWine sent out a request for surplus or expired personal protective gear to provide to Ukrainian territorial defense forces. They said they needed more protective gear and we delivered. I am proud to say that Ohio answered that call.
“Altogether, more than two dozen law enforcement agencies across my home state have donated almost 2,000 pieces of personal protective gear, including 71 vest carriers, 45 helmets, and 1,880 pieces of body armor. With the help of the Fund to Aid Ukraine, a non-profit based in Parma, Ohio this badly needed equipment will soon make its way into the hands of brave Ukrainian defenders who are fighting for their lives as they endure Russia’s brutal assault. This organization has given 24 pallets of supplies and over seven tons of medical supplies to Ukraine. I am grateful to everyone that has stepped forward, especially to those law enforcement agencies who have stepped forward to help those Ukrainian law enforcement entities and first responders who need better protection. And this is happening all over America.
“In addition, there’s a group in Cleveland called MedWish. They’re amazing, I got to visit them last month. They are a very effective nonprofit that works to provide medical and hospital supplies to countries that have suffered from a natural disasters, but also in the case of Ukraine of course from war. They have partnered with a group the United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio, headed by my friend Marta Liscynesky, to provide individual first aid kits and other medical equipment to Ukrainian first responders, defenders, and civilians. And, Cleveland-based KOACORE is delivering 17,000 individual first aid kits to the front lines. This is a company in Cleveland that is a safety management company- so it’s a good role for them. They are doing it again as volunteers and donating them. When I was on the Polish-Ukrainian border in March, I saw Marta and another Ohio Friend Andy Futey, President of the Ukrainian World Congress in action, organizing help for refugees from Ukraine. One of my own staffers, Josh Prest, volunteered to transport some of this assistance to Europe, checking an extra bag on his flight so that he could carry more individual first aid kits and he delivered them as well. Again, there are thousands and thousands of Americans doing these sorts of things.
“As Russian forces intentionally target Ukrainian civilians to spread fear and panic, this display of generosity from the people of Ohio will reassure Ukrainians that America has their back. With this donation, Ukrainian first responders running into the rubble of schools, apartment buildings, and homes will be able to save more lives. I am very proud of how the people of the great state of Ohio have given their time and resources to help those in need. Tonight, in Cincinnati, Ohio, my hometown, we have organized a fundraiser for what’s called World Central Kitchen. They do great work all around the globe, including here in the United States in responding to natural disasters, working with FEMA. But they are doing amazing things in Ukraine. I have seen the good work of D.C. Chef Jose Andres and his brainchild World Central Kitchen is doing when I volunteered along with a few of my colleagues at a world central kitchen location serving refugees at one of his 60 pop up restaurants in the border areas between Ukraine and its neighbors. Tonight, chefs from Greater Cincinnati are volunteering their skills and great food for the people of Ukraine. These donations are a reflection of how the Americans are united in support of the people of Ukraine.
“On the sanctions front, I hope we can focus more of our attention on energy. I believe the top priority of all Ukraine’s allies must be cutting off funding for Putin’s war machine. The single largest source of that funding is of course their energy exports from Russia. Europe relies on energy exports from Russia, purchasing approximately $870 million per day of energy from Russia every single day. That’s one reason the ruble has regained some of its value because these energy receipts are coming in to fund Russia’s government and fund the war machine. For Europe, it’s about $22 million of coal, $415 million of oil every day, and $433 million in natural gas every day. Again funding Russia’s brutal assault against Ukraine. I have talked about this on this Floor before, but Putin has long used energy as a weapon, and we’ve got to put an end to it now.
“I applaud the European nations who have recently taken steps to find alternative sources of energy and transition away from Russia. For example, recently Italy – which relies on Russia for approximately 40 percent of its natural gas – is actively working to secure new natural gas contracts with African nations. And in the last month, Lithuania became the first European country to halt the import of all Russian gas. The E.U. took its first tangible step away from Russian fuels last month when it finally agreed to ban coal imports from Russia—this is expected to take effect in August. As part of their efforts to mark VE Day on Sunday, the G7 – which includes France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. – pledged to ban Russian oil. Well, that’s good, but let’s be sure that this pledge is converted into reality. We have seen agreements with the EU on this topic and we need to be sure we see actual action. A total embargo against all energy – oil, natural gas, coal is needed, and the United States has the energy resources, especially liquefied natural gas, to build a substantive to what Russia has been sending to Europe.
“To be there for Europe, the United States must immediately expand oil and natural gas production here and build the associated energy infrastructure that will allow our hydrocarbons to reach the global market. Reports are showing that last month, in April, European LNG import terminals, so bring LNG into Europe from the United States but also from the Middle East, took in a record amount, hitting their highest levels since the start of the pandemic, and we must continue to build on this trajectory, and we’ve already had a general agreement in place with the E.U. to do that. But certain countries have blocked its implication. 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. All of the above.
“Instead of making it more difficult for domestic energy production, I urge the Biden administration to reject their proposed tax increase on energy production proposed in the president's budget, stop restricting new leases on federal lands and waters for oil and gas production, and help with permitting the needed infrastructure instead of proposals like rewriting the definitions of the Waters of the U.S., which would add significant time and complexity to permitting new energy projects. This is a time when we need to focus on how to help Europe get away from their dependency on Russian energy in order to stop fueling the Putin war machine. I have mentioned sanctions over these past eleven weeks, from trading sanctions and eliminating Russia’s preferred tax status with the U.S., to banking sanctions to crush President Putin’s finical services economy. But we should, and must go further. Especially when Russia not only continues its onslaught on Ukrainians defensive combatants, but their noncombatants on civilians. What they are doing is clearly war crimes. I called on the International Criminal Court, which by the way has announced an investigation, to follow in Ukraine’s footsteps and immediately begin a war crimes tribunal. The evidence of war crimes is now clear. There should be no delay.
“Earlier I spoke about the investment the United States has made since 2015 in training Ukrainian troops and modernizing its military. We know now that investment is paying off because Ukrainian troops have outmaneuvered and push backed on Russia’s military. Speaking to the current Russian invasion, one Ukrainian officer told us, ‘The biggest mistake that the Russians made was giving us eight years to prepare for this.’ Thank goodness we had that time, we could have used it more productively, but we were able to make great progress.
“I close tonight on this because it shows why U.S. leadership around the world is so important. Without the foresight and bipartisan action of Congress and multiple administrations, including the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administrations, what Ukraine is doing now would not have been possible. That’s why it’s so important that we take up this Ukrainian Supplemental immediately, this week, and pass it into law. We have made a difference, and we can continue to make a difference but we are at a crucial point in this war. There is much more to be done, but I am hopeful. I am hopeful because of what we have all seen. Over the past two months, the resiliency and fortitude of not only the Ukrainian armed forces, but the Ukrainian people have shown the world what patriotism and bravery truly is.”