On Senate Floor, Portman Condemns Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Offers Bipartisan Solutions for Lethal Aid, Sanctions, and Humanitarian Assistance
WASHINGTON, DC – Last evening, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke on the Senate floor about the ongoing murderous assault on Ukraine from Russian military forces. This is Portman’s fourth time coming to the Senate floor to shed light on unwarranted Russian aggression. Earlier this year, Portman led a bipartisan delegation of seven senators to Ukraine to assure President Zelenskyy of the United States’ commitment to our allies and sponsored bipartisan legislation to impose pre-invasion sanctions on Russia. Now, Portman is calling for further sanctions on Russian banks through their removal from the SWIFT system, which allows money transfers across borders, and increasing our defense funding both domestically and to Ukraine.
As the Kremlin continues its baseless assault on Ukrainian armed forces and innocent civilians, Portman remains committed to ensuring swift, bipartisan action to support our ally Ukraine.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“This is the fourth time I have come to the floor of the Senate in the past month to talk about the crisis in Ukraine and to talk about what we can do here in the United States Congress to try to help the great people of Ukraine. Today, I come to the floor to express my solidarity with the courageous people of Ukraine, who, as we speak, are under attack in Kyiv, in Kharkiv, and in so many other cities and towns throughout Ukraine. Russia's attack on Ukraine is a brutal, unprovoked invasion of a democracy, an ally, and a sovereign nation. It must not be allowed to stand, for it will create a precedent that unravels the international order that has kept the peace in Europe for nearly 80 years.
“Earlier today, Senator Durbin and I organized a meeting of the Ukraine Caucus, we're the Co-Chairs. We had Ambassador Markarova, who is the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States. Along with her came a member of the Rata, their Parliament, who happened to be in the United States when the attack began. They spoke with emotion about their country, about what they needed, Stinger missiles, javelin missiles to be able to fight against superior Russian airpower and Russian tanks. But they also spoke with compassion about the people of Ukraine, about the sacrifice and the courage that they are showing. From the woman who has never fought before, who now has an AK-47, and is defending her family in her apartment building, to the President of the Republic, President Zelenskyy, all of them are showing courage in defending their homeland, their way of life, and democracy.
“I also just left a briefing that was an opportunity to hear from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and other American officials about what we are doing as a country and to give us an update on their view as to what is happening in Ukraine. Just as the conversation with Ambassador Marcova and a member of the Rata was inspiring to hear about the courage and the resilience of the people of Ukraine, the briefing with our American officials was sobering. It was encouraging to see America stand up to protect freedom, but also an understanding that the Russian forces outnumber those in Ukraine, and certainly their equipment and technology, their planes and their tanks and their ships are going to make this a very, very difficult battle.
“Thankfully, the world is rallying on the side of freedom. That's encouraging and inspiring. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, last night at a prayer vigil and then a rally. Over 1000 people showed up. Many were Ukrainian Americans who live in Northeast Ohio. It's a strong community, but many were not. Many were from other countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland. People who have family from Romania, Bulgaria, people from the entire region, including some from Russia, but all standing firmly with the people of Ukraine. As was said last night at the prayer vigil, tonight we are all Ukrainians, tonight we are all Ukrainians. There were also demonstrations and rallies all around the country yesterday. We're told over 40 cities had rallies to support Ukraine and the people of Ukraine.
“Last night, I heard stories about family members who are in harm's way. Again, people with their voices choked with emotion, talking about what's going on, what they're hearing from their family members back in Ukraine. One guy who I know told me that his brother-in-law back in Ukraine, who again has never picked up a weapon before in his life, has joined the military. He's probably about my age. He's joined the military to put his life at risk for his country and for his neighbors. The people of Ukraine did nothing to cause this invasion. Nothing. Their only desire is to live in peace. As Ambassador Markarova said this afternoon, Ukrainians never attack anybody. We just want to live in peace. Allow us to determine our own fate, our own destiny.
“That is what Vladimir Putin cannot abide, and that is what we in America and the rest of the free world must support the Ukrainians in doing to allow them to have the future that they choose through a duly elected government, the freedoms and democracy and prosperity that we take for granted so often in this country, they relish. In 2014, at the Maidan, once again, they threw off the shackles of a Russian-backed government. They know what it's like to live under the thumb of Russia, under the thumb of the Soviet Union before that. They don't want to go back.
“In 2014, they made a conscious decision to go forward, looking to the West, to stand with us. I was there while the Maidan was still smoldering. The tires were still smoldering. People were still there, gathered. Even though the Russian-backed government had been removed, they still weren't sure what would happen. Then an election occurred, a Democratic election and a president was elected and a parliament, a Rada was elected. And they began to fight for not just the freedom of Ukraine and the democracy in Ukraine, but the rule of law to get rid of some of the oligarchical structure that Russia had left, the corruption. And now this. After so much progress. Since 2014, they have fought and fought and fought to be like us. And now this.
“Hundreds of innocent Ukrainians -- men, women, and children -- have already lost their lives in this invasion. Nobody knows the exact number, but we saw footage today on CNN, on Fox, on the networks of apartment buildings that had been attacked by missiles. We heard from the ambassador, the two five story apartment buildings had been attacked today, and women and children had lost their lives.
“This humanitarian crisis, of course, is pouring refugees into other countries as well. Hundreds of thousands of people have escaped Poland, mostly women and children. Romania is also taking its share of refugees. But make no mistake: Ukrainians are fighting. They are fighting back bravely, and they have inflicted great costs already on their Russian invaders. I commend those brave Ukrainians and armed forces who picked up arms against these great odds and have already denied President Putin his initial objective and immediate occupation.
“I want to particularly commend the brave leadership of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. His defiance in the face of evil is what leads free countries and societies through difficult and dark days like Ukraine is experiencing right now. When it was suggested to him that the West would like to help him find a way to escape, his response this week was, “I need ammunition, not a ride.’ ‘I need ammunition, not a ride.' This has been a rallying cry not only for the people of Ukraine, but around the world.
“Unfortunately, Ukraine is used to this Russian aggression. They have suffered already during an eight year war on Ukraine since 2014, since the Revolution of Dignity, since the events on the Maiden I talked about earlier. 14,000 Ukrainian citizens have lost their lives at the hands of Russian snipers, Russian military, artillery. I've been to the front. They call it the line of contact. It's the border now between Ukraine and these so-called occupied territories. The Donbass. Line of contact is a euphemism. It makes it sound like there's gloves touching at the contact. It's a line of war, and it has been for 14 years. Again, 14,000 Ukrainians have lost their lives. I had to wear the helmet and the flak jacket because there were snipers that day taking potshots at Ukrainian soldiers.
“But I saw with those Ukrainian soldiers the patriotism, the nationalism that I knew would lead to them to fight. That the miscalculation by President Putin was that somehow Russia would be greeted as victors. Some even said that he thought they would be greeted with flowers. Instead, they're being greeted with AK-47s. And having been there on the front lines, you knew this would happen. These Ukrainians are not going to give up their country.
“When President Putin decided to invade Ukraine in 2014 and seize Crimea and come into the Donbass, it was clear that Russia was not a rational actor, but one motivated by the irrational dreams of recreating an Empire at all costs. The world warned Russia to stand down then, and they refused. And the sanctions were too weak. This time, the world again has warned Vladimir Putin to stand down.
“Instead, he has ordered airstrikes into the capital city of Kyiv. And now there are reports of Russian military deliberately striking hospitals, kindergartens, apartment complexes, as I talked about a moment ago. These are war crimes and the world is watching. I would say to Russian officials tonight, Russian commanders, there's another way. Stop this atrocity, the world is watching, and the war crimes are being recorded. You can refuse these orders, and you must for the sake of humanity. Why would you want to kill your neighbors in Ukraine who are innocent and just want to have the opportunity to lead their life as they see fit.
“These are not just war crimes. They're a clear violation of Russia's international commitments under the Budapest Memorandum, the Minsk Agreements, the U.N. Charter, international law, as was the decree issued earlier in February, about two weeks ago by President Putin, which recognized the independence of parts of Ukraine, the Donetsk People's Republic, the Luhansk People's Republic. He did so as a pretext to ordering the Russian military to conduct so-called ‘peacekeeping missions’ in occupied Ukrainian territories. We now see that this was one more case of disinformation. The lies and disinformation will continue as they did today, but they're taking in fewer and fewer people because people can see what's happening. This is the age of digital communications, where people can see videos in real time of the war crimes being committed.
“I was among those advocating for tougher sanctions, upfront pre-invasion, believing that might dissuade Russia from launching a full scale of assault. I cosponsored legislation to do just that, and I'd hoped Congress would pass bipartisan legislation mandating tough financial sanctions, Nord Stream II sanctions, assistance to combat cyber-attacks, disinformation in addition to the enhanced military aid. I honestly don't know whether it would have kept Vladimir Putin from making this terrible mistake, but I thought it was something we should have done. We chose not to, and we are where we are. And now we are seeing not just the United States, but the rest of the world step forward with these tough sanctions.
“And I congratulate the Biden administration for getting the rest of the world on board, as they have. There's more to do. We have now targeted Russian banks, Russian elites with sanctions, placed limits on hightech commerce and Russia's ability to do business in Dollars. All are welcome. In particular, the Treasury Department's imposition of economic measures that target the core infrastructure of Russia and more than 50% of the total banking system in Russia will have a devastating economic effect over time. Already today, they closed down their markets in Russia, their stock market.
“They are saying that foreign reserve cannot leave the country, so it's already having an impact. In addition, the administration's announcement that they will sell 250 M1A2 battle tanks to Poland. I commend. I had been pushing for that for some time. These are the best tanks in the world, and Poland wanted them, and it is great we are now delivering those. We have now deployed more U.S. troops to Germany and Eastern Europe to enhance NATO defenses. That's necessary, in my view. We're not in Ukraine, but in the countries around Ukraine to ensure that should Vladimir Putin expand this war, and who knows whether he will or not, that he will meet even stiffer resistance from NATO.
“We must make it part of a deliberate, coordinated strategy to enhance the military readiness of our Eastern European allies and do so quickly. I also applaud the US working with our European allies, with Australia, with Canada, with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore on a coordinated export control response. Combined, by the way, these four Asian countries I named account for over 70 percent of the world's semiconductor production. A ban on semiconductors on chips would be very costly to Russia's ability to arm and resupply its military. We must be sure this action comes to fruition. This must happen.
“However, these are just first steps in my view. We can and should do more, and I think there's a bipartisan consensus now here on Capitol Hill to do just that. Let me offer a few more suggestions. I welcome the news from this weekend that we are going to be joined by a number of allies in sanctioning Russia's Central Bank and cutting off a number of their institutions from the SWIFT financial system. We're still seeing details of these plans, but as of now, it looks like they still have some carve outs in this plan for certain financial institutions when it comes to SWIFT. I think it is a better idea to put all of Russia's banks on this sanctioning list. As for the Central Bank, I'm glad we are getting global cooperation, but who we really need to step up to the plate is China. I'm told China holds 14 percent of Russia's finances and reserves. China needs to know that this is a decision point. Will they stand against this tyranny that the global community is standing against or not?
“I believe we should also target Russia's trade sector by revoking our Permanent Normal Trade Relationship, or PNTR, with Russia. In other words, the United States should no longer give Russia unrestricted access in trade to our country. This would have the effect of raising tariffs on goods from Russia to the rates at which they were before Russia joined the World Trade Organization and received this special status, PNTR, from the U.S. Congress. When I was U.S. Trade Representative, I helped negotiate this agreement, and it does give them certain privileges with regard to our economy.
“Free trade with the United States is a privilege, not a right. After Russia joined the WTO in 2012, Congress passed legislation to expand trade between our countries by eliminating tariffs on some of these imports. But as easily as we granted PNTR, Congress can take it away. Invading a sovereign nation, a democracy no less, is certainly grounds for us to take away that privilege, and we have the right to undo it under the WTO rules for national security reasons. It would not be unprecedented. In 1992, Congress revoked market access for Serbia and Montenegro as a result of their aggression in the wake of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Today, I will be introducing bipartisan legislation to revoke unrestricted market access for countries who invade their neighbors. Period. I call upon our trading partners to invoke their own national security rights at the WTO and similarly take away market access Russia, until this point, has enjoyed in their economies.
“This should be ended, this market access, unless and until Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty are as they were prior to the Russian invasion. I was also glad to see the Germans have reversed their policy of not allowing arms that were originally produced in Germany to be sent to Ukraine. This is a big deal. They are now joining our other allies that have sent weapons in the past and are sending more now. Germany is allowing another ally, the Netherlands, to send rocket propelled grenades.
“I have been critical of Germany. I have been critical of Germany on this very floor, also when I was at the Munich conference in Germany last week. I wish they had taken these steps sooner, but I commend them for taking these steps now. We also need to increase shipments of lethal military arms to Ukraine, to the Baltics, to Poland and Romania, as well as increasing defense spending here at home. This weekend, the administration authorized an additional $350 million in lethal defensive arms for Ukraine. That's a positive development and we need to get those weapons there immediately.
“I understand that some have gone, others have not. These Javelins and Stingers and other military equipment need to be in Ukraine as soon as possible. The Ambassador told me today, they need them badly and there's absolutely no time to lose. I understand the administration has also recently requested $6.4 billion in aid for Ukraine in an emergency supplemental. I don't know if that's enough. With hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Poland and other countries that border Ukraine, we need to provide these allies with help to deal with this crisis. I also want to take a hard look at the amount we are spending on arming Ukraine and our allies. Now is the time to provide them with what they need. An aid package should increase our lethal defensive assistance, provide critical support to combat enhanced cyber-attacks against Ukraine, and disinformation, and prepare for a refugee flow out of Ukraine into Europe.
“By the way, we also need to enhance our own tools against cybersecurity right here in this country. Russia's cyber warfare against America continues, and it could increase. There's legislation actually on the floor this week to do just that. The Cyber Incident Reporting for a Critical Infrastructure Act and two other key pieces of legislation, FedRAMP and FISMA are legislation to help protect our critical infrastructure on the private sector side, but also protect our sensitive government information, national security data so we could do something this week by passing that legislation.
“Finally, Ukraine and Georgia should be allowed to begin the process to become part of NATO. You may remember it's been 14 years since NATO told Ukraine and Georgia they're in line for NATO membership. It was back in 2008. I do not believe this invasion would have happened had Ukraine been part of NATO. Period. I was told when I promoted this idea over the last several years that we couldn't do it because it would make Russia mad.
“I don't know what the reason is now. These two countries, Ukraine and Georgia, along perhaps with Sweden and Finland, if they are interested, I understand the Finnish Parliament is going to take this up tomorrow, could join the so-called MAP process, or mutual action plan, in NATO, laying out the specific roadmap for entry. It is time to put Ukraine on that final track toward NATO membership. Let me remind everyone that Ukraine is not asking us to fight their wars for them. In fact, the world continues to watch and see images of Ukrainian forces and regular civilians picking up arms and defending their homeland. They are just asking for enough help to defend themselves.
“This is about the fight for freedom and it's taking place right now at this time in the country of Ukraine. It's taking place in places all around the world. I'm told that today there is a move toward more authoritarianism, that more people live under authoritarian regimes than under Democratic regimes, based on some analysis, that it is shifting in the wrong direction. Well then why then we would not stand by Ukraine because Ukraine is moving in the right direction. In 2014, they moved from being under the Russian thumb, authoritarianism to democracy. And now Russia is trying to reverse that. We must stand for freedom. Why? Because it's in our interests.
“Ultimately, we are the beacon of hope, of opportunity, for the rest of the world because of our freedoms here, but they are tenuous and they depend on the allies around the world who also treasure freedom. There are two quotes from US presidents that come to mind. One is from a Republican and one is from a Democrat. The Democrat is John F. Kennedy. And these are words that he actually never spoke, but he wrote them and it was from a speech that he was meant to give on the afternoon that he was assassinated in Dallas.
“He was to say, 'at this time in this country, in this generation, we are by destiny rather than choice, the Watchmen on the walls of world freedom.' We are the Watchmen on the walls of world freedom. Senator Kennedy served in this Chamber. President Kennedy was right. Just as he stood up to the Cuban missile crisis, he understood that by destiny rather than choice, it's up to us. Ronald Reagan famously said that you get peace through strength. To me, that's one of the great truisms of our last couple of decades in this country, that we have to have a strong military if we want to have peace, because only by the projection of force can we ensure that we can keep the peace around the world. He also said, 'we know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.'
“Think of the situation in Ukraine. It is then that tyrants are tempted. There's a strong bipartisan support now for Ukraine and this week we should work hard to ensure that we passed the supplemental appropriation bill we talked about that includes the assistance for Ukraine, but also to strengthen our ability to protect against cyber-attacks. Also to do what we can in terms of trade, cutting off this normal trade status with Russia, tightening up the sanctions on the central bank we talked about. There's so much more we can and should do.
“But I find there's no lack of resolve right now from this Congress in its support for Ukraine and they're people. They're people who are just choosing a Democratic and free future, free from tyranny. The Ukrainian dream is now under attack by a brutal dictator who wants to remake Europe and disrupt the international order that has kept the peace for nearly 80 years. It's time for this Congress to speak with one voice. Freedom in Eastern Europe depends on it, but so does global freedom and our freedom.
“Our allies and our adversaries are watching. I yield back my time.”