On Senate Floor, Portman Condemns Continued Russian War Crimes in Ukraine, Calls on Biden Administration to Do More to Support War Effort

April 25, 2022 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Tonight, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke on the Senate floor about Russia’s continued war crimes in Ukraine and called for Vladimir Putin to be held accountable. Portman noted Secretaries Blinken and Austin’s visit to Kyiv, President Biden’s nomination of Bridget Brink to be Ambassador to Ukraine, and the new online portal for Americans to sponsor Ukrainian refugees.  While Senator Portman has been critical of the lack of urgency from the Administration, he noted that these are steps in the right direction. As violence against noncombatants and civilians continues, Portman urged the freezing and seizing of Russian assets to help Ukrainians, and cutting off Russia’s income from energy sales to help further cripple the Putin economy.

Senator Portman recently visited a humanitarian organization in Ohio called MedWish that has shipped over seven tons of medical supplies to Ukraine and commended their efforts from the Buckeye state. Portman has now spoken on the Floor for nine weeks to support our democratic ally Ukraine and will continue to push for strong bipartisan action.

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

 

“I'm coming on the floor again this evening to talk about the tragedy that's unfolding in Ukraine. This is the ninth week in a row, during sessions, that I have come to the floor to talk about the brutal and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine, an ally of ours, a democratic country, and a sovereign country. It's now been more than two months since Russia's assault began, and Ukrainians continue to fight, with heart, toughness and conviction. The Russians have been defeated in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. And the Russian Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, was sunk by Ukrainian Neptune missiles. There have been some successes. While Ukraine and its people have impressed the free world with their fierce defense of their homeland, the senseless and indiscriminate killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russia continues. 

“In this new stage of the war, Russia's begun an intensified offensive in the Donbas region in the eastern part of Ukraine. A few days ago, a Russian commander affirmed that their goal is to gain full control of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, meaning control of all of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, rather than the roughly 50 percent they took in 2014. And control of southern Ukraine, cutting Ukraine off from its Black Sea ports, leaving one of the most important exporters land locked. The commander also threatened the territorial integrity of the small country of Moldova that borders the southern Ukraine by saying this will connect Russia to the breakaway province of Transnistria, where Russian troops were already stationed. It may not be coincidental that today we heard reports of bombs hitting the ministry of state building in Transnistria, when no one was there, by the way. Some say this could be a false flag attack, giving Russia excuse to invade all of Moldova. 

“All of the countries in the region are nervous about their status, they’re worried for a good reason. They could be next. I can see why they're concerned. We've all seen with our own eyes what's going on, on television, or online, videos we've seen, but let's not forget, Russia continues to commit war crimes and display an utter disregard for innocent human lives. They continue to prevent evacuation of civilians from Mariupol. They've executed noncombatants. And now there are reports of systemic rape and torture by Russian soldiers. This is on top of previous confirmed reports of use of cluster munitions and thermobaric weapons on civilians. As of February 28, the International Criminal Court announced allegations would be investigated. That's good. That must happen. But if they wait and have the proceedings once the war is over, in my view, that is too late. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. These horrific Russian assaults on innocent Ukrainian families in Bucha, Mariupol and elsewhere, the bombing of civilian targets, the rapes, the tortures, all are crimes against humanity and Russia must be held accountable for war crimes, not later, but now. If there's not accountability, more senseless killings in Ukraine will occur and these atrocities are likely to be repeated by others in the future.

“Many of my colleagues and I were on a video call  with the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal. He expressed his appreciation for the lethal support we have provided here in the United States Senate and in the House, through the administration. But he stressed the need for more help, for more heavy weapons to defend and push Russia back in the Donbas region. He also detailed how the country's economy has been severely damaged and what they will need to just stay afloat. Regarding military assistance, I'm pleased this past week the White House heeded calls from a bipartisan group of us to appoint a Ukrainian Security Assistance Coordinator, to cut through the red tape and get the right military assistance to Ukraine more quickly. It is important with so many agencies and individuals involved that one person be solely focused on this critical mission, and be held accountable. That person the White House has appointed is three-star general Terry Wolff, who has extensive experience as the former Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and commanded every level, from platoon to armored division.

“From the very start of this conflict, I’ve said we need to do more and we need to do it more quickly. We cannot do that if our assistance gets bogged down by the bureaucracy. Every delay in lethal aid costs Ukrainian lives. So I’m pleased we now have a coordinator, and I hope this will streamline the process. I'm encouraged the administration also recently announced further assistance of $800 million in artillery pieces, ammunition, armored vehicles and new loitering munitions, it’s called the Phoenix ghost. This is a suicidal drone that is now in the hands of the Ukrainians. That's promising. I understand that the $3.4 billion in security assistance Congress passed in March will soon be exhausted and that there will be a need for additional supplemental funding for Ukraine. I encourage the administration to go ahead and look at that package, send it to us, get us to start thinking about it. When it comes here for a vote, I think we need to act quickly on it, review what the administration has sent, and be sure we do it on a standalone basis rather than have it get bogged down in unrelated legislative matters.

“I'm also pleased that some state National Guards are sending armored vehicles to assist Ukraine in their efforts. From Ohio, our National Guard will provide some M-113 armored personnel carriers as part of a drawdown of DOD Inventories to support Ukraine. This sends a strong message of support to our allies from the Buckeye State. I also appreciate the number of police departments across Ohio, including Cleveland Police Department where I was last week, that are providing over 200 protective vests to Ukrainians. Thank you. Last week I had the chance to visit an incredibly effective nonprofit in Ohio, called MedWish, that collects donated medical supplies from hospitals and provides these medical supplies to countries who are in need. Sometimes because of a natural disaster. In this case, because of war. Today, their major focus is on Ukraine where they have delivered over seven tons of badly needed medical supplies, and this effort continues. Again, I thank them for what they're doing. I thank all the hospitals and all the private practices that have donated equipment to be able to be sent to Ukraine to save lives.

“As we all know, this war continues to produce a staggering number of refugees. Last week the White House announced the program ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ to streamline the process for bringing 100,000 refugees with strong ties to the United States into our country. Uniting for Ukraine will allow Americans and organizations here to sponsor Ukrainians who have been forced to leave their country. The American sponsors will be required to declare their financial support for the applicants and the Ukranians applying for this program must meet vaccinations and other public health requirements, as well as biographic and biometric screening, vetting, and security checks. That's all good. These individuals will then be allowed to work and remain in the U.S. legally up to two years. I have heard personally from so many generous Ohioan whose want to open their homes to these refugees, who want to be helpful. More than 500 people have now called or emailed my office and a number of businesses have expressed interest in offering jobs to these refugees. I urge the administration to staff up this program so that we can bring some of these desperate refugees to the United States as planned...

“Our partners in Europe are doing more than their fair share here.  More than five million Ukrainians have fled their homeland since the war began and they are crossing into neighboring countries in Europe. As I saw when I was in Poland last month, meeting with refugees, Poland has taken in almost three million refugees alone. I think Poland is to be commended with the way they have responded to this Ukrainian crisis in so many respects, including taking these refugees. We saw cars lined up at the refuges processing center down at the border of everyday Poles there to pick up refugees and take them into their home. Hungary and Slovakia have taken in hundreds of thousands too. Surely, the United States can get our act together with regard to the hundred thousand.

“I'm pleased that Secretaries Blinken and Austin met with President Zelenskyy yesterday in Kyiv. This is the first time since the war began two months ago that we've had American diplomats in Kyiv. I think it's important that we are there. The Europeans are there. Other countries are there. We need to be there, too. I'm glad to hear that we are finally reestablishing our diplomatic presence in Kyiv. I'm also pleased that the administration is finally nominating an Ambassador to Ukraine. We've had no Ambassador to Ukraine during this administration. They have indicated they're going to nominate Bridget Brink, who is a Career Foreign Service Officer and is current U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia, so she has critical experience in the area. While both of these moves were long overdue, I commend the administration for finally acting. Sending a strong signal to our allies and advisories alike, that the United States is serious about standing with Ukraine. Let's get our diplomats back to the capital, back to Kyiv, and let’s get an ambassador in place as soon as possible.

“On the sanctions front, I believe we should be seizing, not just freezing, assets of Kremlin supporters and provide the funds from the sale of these assets to meet the needs of Ukraine. To do this I introduced with Senator Bennet from Colorado the Repurposing Elite Luxuries Into Emergency Funds (RELIEF) Act for Ukraine to require the Department of Justice to direct any funds resulting from the disposal of seized Russian assets to support Ukrainian refugees and support reconstruction. So like other countries have done, including France and Germany, let's seize these assets like yachts owned by the Kremlin supporters or by President Vladimir Putin himself, and take those funds on the sale of those assets and use them immediately to help with the humanitarian effort. I urge the Senate and the House to act this week on this legislation so that we can give Ukrainians the help they need.

“I continue to believe that our top priority on sanctions should be cutting off Russia's number one source of income that fuels the war. Forty to fifty percent of their budget is from one place, energy. Those receipts from energy are fueling the Putin war machine. Energy is Russia's largest export and accounts again for a significant part, roughly half of their budget. Over the past year the average oil revenue going back to Russia from their exports to the United States alone was $50 million a day. Under pressure from Congress, the administration reversed course and supported blocking Russian oil, natural gas, and coal imports into the United States. I'm glad we did that. It made no sense for us to help fund the Russian war effort, especially when we have our own resources here in terms of energy that we can access. I welcome the president's announcement in Brussels of the creation of a joint US-EU Task force to help reduce Europe's dependency on Russian energy and strengthen Europe's energy security.

“Europe has become much more dependent on Russia for energy than the United States. Germany now gets almost 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. This means that Europe, by the way, is now sending an estimated $870 million a day to Russia. $870 million a day in payments for its natural gas, oil, and coal from Russia. Ending that European reliance on Russian energy is the right policy. And it will save lives. Fortunately again, some progress has been made. The E.U. has agreed to phase out imports of Russian coal over time. They say over the next several months. And they said they're willing to work with the United States to have some of our liquefied natural gas, LNG, replace some of the Russian gas. This is a good idea. We should allow more production here in the United States so we have that LNG to be able to export to Germany and to other European countries to replace some of that Russian gas to make them less dependent on Russia and stop sending this revenue to fund the war machine.

“Lithuania needs to be held up as the first European union country to completely cut itself off from Russian natural gas. But the reality again is that Europe continues to fund the war machine right now with this $870 million every day in energy receipts going to Russia. Part of the answer again lies with us. We must support our domestic energy producers as a means of supporting our national and economic security. But also as a way to support our allies. This means America having a robust, all-of-the-above approach to power our nation which includes hydrogen, renewables, fossil fuels, carbon capture technologies, nuclear power, hydropower, the importance of this cannot be overstated. Energy is national security.

“As a practical matter to stop the revenues going from Europe to fund the Russian war machine, the administration must change policies to get more American LNG to Europe to substitute for Russian gas. This requires more pipelines, more infrastructure, more export facilities, of course. Unfortunately, we aren't off to a very good start on that front. The president's tax proposals released with his recent budget submission to congress eliminates important tax provisions used by our domestic producers, like the deduction for Intangible Drilling Costs, or IDCs, which allows natural gas and oil producers to deduct costs that are necessary for the drilling and preparation of wells. Let's take an approach here where we're encouraging again all of the above in order to ensure our national security and to help our allies in Europe. The ruble has just about fully recovered to its pre-invasion value because Russia is still bringing in these revenues from the sale of its energy. Shares on Russia's stock market are trading again and Russia's VTB bank remains open for business in Europe where it has gathered billions of Euros in deposits, mainly from German savers. Our sanctions have left Russia's biggest economic lifeline largely untouched. Again, energy sales, specifically to Europe.

“In fact, in addition to cutting off the 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 transaction don't go into effect against Russian banks including, the VTB bank, until June 24. Those sanctions ought to go into place right now. They should have gone into place weeks ago. President Biden must lead the alliance to do what it takes to help Ukraine win and the administration needs to make clear that their objective is for Ukraine to actually be victorious, to push the forces of Russia out of the sovereign territory of Ukraine. We must remember that the Ukrainians are not asking us to fight for them, but they are asking for the tools to defend themselves. So they have a chance to win.

“I have said before that both Ukraine and Georgia should be given what is called a Membership Action Plan as the next step towards NATO membership. Based on the actions of the Russians and fighting spirit of the Ukrainians I now feel more strongly than ever that Ukraine should be part of NATO. They deserve it. I'm encouraged that both Finland and Sweden are considering NATO membership. They should both be immediately welcomed into the NATO family. Vladimir Putin sought to weaken the NATO alliance. This is yet another strategic failure on his part as we are coming closer together and will potentially add even more members.

“I will close with this thought. Some might ask, even a few of my colleagues have asked me, why a senator from Ohio cares about what goes on in Ukraine. Well, the first answer is we should all care. This is about the fight for freedom in our time, in our generation. This is where it's being engaged right now. I also happen to have tens of thousands of Ukrainians who call Ohio home. These Ukrainian Americans are good friends of mine. They're constituents. They keep my informed and have over the years. They've helped me to get more engaged on this issue. I've been to Ukraine six or seven times. When I was at the border of Ukraine and Poland last month, some of my Ohio friends were there, too, as volunteers, providing food and medical supplies to the refugees. When Ukraine made a decision to turn to us, to turn to democracy and freedom and free enterprise back in 2014, I was there with my colleague Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland.

“We were there as election observers. But what we really observed was a country that had made a decision, to turn to us, to turn to the West, to be like us, to join us in the fight for freedom. Even if I had no constituents of Ukrainian descent, I would be standing here because this is the fight for freedom. This is our test. Are we going to stand against tyranny and for freedom at a time when these terrible atrocities are being committed? I've been to the border of Ukraine and Poland and talked to these refugees. Through their tears they spoke of their apartments or homes being destroyed and damaged. They talked of friends and family members being injured or killed. They talked about the pain of being separated from their husbands, their fathers, not knowing their fate since they had stayed behind to fight. They also begged us to put in place a no-fly zone to help them even more.

“The popular Ukrainian national rallying cry, ‘Slava Ukraini,’ when translated into English is ‘Glory to Ukraine.’ And then the response to that is ‘Glory to the Heroes,’ ‘Heroyam Slava.’ In the midst of all this, there are so many heroes to glorify in Ukraine. Heroes like the people I saw in Ohio last week who work at MedWish and are providing medical supplies urgently needed in Ukraine. The staff that collect and send these much needed supplies, going mostly to the women and children of Ukraine, who continue to seek safe passage from their homeland. Not only are there heroes here, but there are so many heroes at home in Ukraine. Those are the firefighters, those are the soldiers, those are the citizen soldiers. With our help the Ukrainians can win this war. One of the Members of Parliament from Ukraine, from the Rada, who came to see us a few weeks ago here in Congress perhaps said it best. We met with the Ukrainian caucus that I co-chair and we had four members of the Rada come, all women, and the Ambassador from Ukraine was there as well.

“They said she hears all the time that, ‘We are all Ukrainians now.’ And I've heard that back home. And that's how I feel. She said that if that is true, since we're all Ukrainians now, we must be like Ukrainians. She said we must be brave, creative, and fast. And that's what they are. They're very resourceful. They figured out a way to take on one of the biggest armies of the world and be successful, brave, creative, and fast.  I urge my colleagues, the administration, and the world, let us help Ukraine win this war by being brave, creative, and fast. By doing that, we will show the world America stands with Ukraine, which is in our national security interest. Thank you. I yield the floor.”

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