On Senate Floor, Portman Discusses Bipartisan Trip to Ukraine, Meeting with President Zelenskyy, Urges Further Aid to Defeat Russian Aggression
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of Ukraine for the 21th consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman talked about his recent bipartisan trip to Ukraine with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) where he met with President Zelenskyy, Defense Minister Reznikov, and Head of the Presidential Administration Andriy Yermak. Senator Portman also met with senior leadership of the 101st Airborne Division in Poland, as well as members of that elite unit from the Buckeye State, and saw firsthand their bravery and perseverance. Throughout the trip, Portman learned from both American and Ukrainian officials the positive impact that U.S.-provided HIMARS rocket systems have had on Ukraine’s progress on the battlefield and how they have made Ukraine’s current counteroffensive possible.
Since before the Russian invasion began Senator Portman has stood in staunch support of Ukraine and served as Grand Marshal in a parade to mark Ukraine’s Independence in Parma, Ohio, just prior to departing for Ukraine. As co-chair and co-founder of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Portman urges his Republican colleagues to continue to support Ukraine in their efforts to defend their homeland.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“I've come to the Senate floor again today to talk about Ukraine. This is the 21st week in the row since we've been in session that I have done so and to talk about how Ukraine is responding to Russia's brutal and unprovoked attack on that sovereign country, an ally of ours, a Democracy. This is a map of Ukraine. We can see here where the Russian invasion came back in 2014 and where they are now. You can also see some progress being made in the blue as Ukrainian military pushes back on this latest invasion.
“Last week I was able to visit Ukraine and to go to Kyiv, the capitol, along with a colleague of mine across the aisle, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Senator Klobuchar and I believed it was important to demonstrate bipartisan support for Ukraine at a very critical time. She and I will be back here on the Senate floor together later this week to talk further about this trip.
“But the trip came on the six-month anniversary of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine. It also came on the same week that Ukraine began a counteroffensive against the Russian invasion here in the Kherson area. It also came at a time when there's increased concern about the nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, here. The power plant is actually right here near this red line.
“Inspectors from the U.N., United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency visited this Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant last week which is Europe's single largest nuclear power plant. We began our trip in Poland where we met with the leadership of the elite 101st Airborne Division, which is stationed in the south of Poland.
“The 101st is a unit with a long, proud history including participating in daring airborne assaults on D-day, striking deep within enemy lines in Operation Desert Storm, serving with distinction in the global war on terror. Its motto attest, the 101st has a rendezvous with destiny during pivotal moments of our country's history. Now they have another rendezvous with destiny. In Poland they're not only bolstering allied defenses in Eastern Europe, here in Poland, but really all around Eastern Europe but also conducting a very important mission.
“They're facilitating the delivery of vital military assistance from Ukraine from 42 other countries other than the United States all around the world. These soldiers are really at the tip of the spear of America's historic effort to arm the soldiers with the tools they need to protect themselves and to protect their Democracy. I also got to meet soldiers from the 101st from my home state of Ohio. They told me of the Polish people's welcoming to them. They said that people are so grateful for what the American soldiers are doing there in Poland.
“They feel so much better knowing that the American presence is there. One guy told me about walking down a street in Poland and someone coming up and hugging him just to say thank you. He was a little surprised by that. The senior leaders of the 101st briefed Senator Klobuchar and myself on how the military assistance is going and what's actually happening on the battlefield against the Russians.
“In Ukraine, Senator Klobuchar and I traveled to Kyiv to meet with senior Ukrainian officials, including President Zelenskyy, Defense Minister Reznikov, Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak and others as well as members of the parliament, which is called the Rada. We traveled north of Kyiv to see firsthand where there have been unspeakable atrocities against innocent civilians during the initial stages of this war.
“We also saw where Russian forces were stopped dead in their tracks in the earlier assault on their capitol by brave Ukrainian defenders. During our meeting with President Zelenskyy, the very first thing that he wanted to say was thank you. Thank you to the American people for being such great partners, strong allies, helping Ukraine defend itself.
“He and his leadership team know well the vital role that America's assistance has played in helping Ukraine not just defend itself against Russian's illegal unprovoked and cold-blooded invasion but now to actually push Russian forces back and to begin deliberate territory in some places like the southern part of Ukraine. It was a common theme of our trip that we heard from all Ukrainians regarding their thankfulness to America.
“They are immensely appreciative of what the American people have done. The fact that we have stepped up and led in helping Ukraine in this fight for freedom. By the way, because of that, because of America's assistance and America's leadership, they're very optimistic about their future.
“We spoke about many topics with President Zelenskyy, including the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which has grown increasingly dangerous over the past few weeks. The Russians have captured this plant and now have taken the Ukrainian employees of this nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, taken them captive and intimidated them in various ways.
“We were told about them being harassed, even reports of torture, working at gun point and now Russia is reportedly using explosives to destroy electrical infrastructure from the plant taking electricity into Ukraine. They want to cut off the infrastructure that goes into Ukraine and steal the energy for themselves. Remember, this is not just the biggest plant in Europe.
“It provides 20 percent of the electricity for Ukraine and allows Ukraine actually right now to sell some of its electricity to other countries, which is helping with regard to Ukraine's serious budget problems. The Russians are also using this nuclear power plant as a military base essentially, as a nuclear shield. This is playing with fire. They are firing artillery positioned at the plant on Ukrainian forces nearby knowing the Ukrainians cannot fire back. Russia has already irresponsibly used oil and gas, energy as a weapon of war. We've seen what they've done with Europe.
“They said to Europe, ‘if you don't stop all these sanctions we are going to cut off your energy.’ Nord Stream I has been cut off causing great harm and pain in Europe. So they're using energy as a weapon already. We've seen them use food as a weapon of war. Totally irresponsible, including actually bombing Ukrainian grain bins with grain that is absolutely essential right now in places like sub-Saharan Africa to be able to survive because they depend so much on Ukrainian wheat, corn, sunflower oil.
“Now they're taking it to the next step. Now they are actually using nuclear power and this military base as a weapon of war. Using nuclear power and these reactors as a tool in this war is a reckless escalation risking a catastrophe. We could have on our hands the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. I encourage president Putin to do the right thing and demilitarize this area around the plant. This is dangerous to the entire continent, including Russia and the rest of Europe.
“Allow these workers to do their job without this kind of pressure and ensure there is no leakage from the plant. President Zelenskyy agreed with us in our meeting that that's the way this should be handled. It should be demilitarized. I noted that today the United Nations IAEA inspectors at the plant have also said there should be a demilitarized zone around the plant. I also heard today that two members of this inspection team that visited last week when we were there will now be staying at the plant for an uncertain period and that is good news. That there actually will be some inspectors there from the United Nations. It's a step in the right direction at least.
“But what Russia needs to do is back off this plant and demilitarize the area. We know that Russia's ultimate plan is to disconnect this plant nuclear power plant from the Ukraine’s grid and as I said, connect it to the Russian grid. This is the theft of power, plain and simple. This plant, the largest in Europe, produces, again, 20 percent of Ukraine's electricity. We also talked to President Zelenskyy about the various weapon needs they continue to have.
“He talked specifically about how effective the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, have been. These are weapons that the United States has provided to Ukraine, about 16 of them, but also the U.K. and Germany has provided comparable systems to the Ukraine. And they have been extremely effective. They've used these missile systems to target Russian ammo depots, logistics lines that are within Ukraine but far from the front lines.
“They are destroying these ammo depots, these command posts, these pieces of critical infrastructure. This is causing disarray in Russia's ability to supply, control, and maneuver its forces. We heard repeatedly that the Ukrainian morale has been lifted by these HIMARS because of their ability finally to reach these Russian positions, and Russian artillery that previously was out of reach of the Ukrainian artillery and instead they were sitting back with impunity and destroying Ukrainian cities, killing civilians and soldiers without having any consequences. Now they're feeling some consequences.
“They also said that not only is the Ukrainian morale increasing but the Russian morale is decreasing. It is deteriorating, as the Ukrainian make progress. HIMARS have been in use by the U.S. armed forces for over a decade yet even the soldiers I talked to at the 101st told us how surprised they were at how resourceful and creative the Ukrainians were maintaining and using these systems.
“The Ukrainian soldiers clearly have the ingenuity, as well as the will and the determination to fight. If we continue to provide them these tools that they need to be able to successful, Ukraine will persevere over time and preserve its freedom and Independence from Russian domination. The point I'd like to make really is that what we did here in this chamber by voting for this aid that resulted in these HIMARS is making a huge difference in Ukraine. After meeting with President Zelenskyy, we visited some of the suburbs outside Kyiv, collectively these places tell the story of Russia's failed attempt to capture Kyiv.
“We first visited Irpin, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Kyiv. Before the war, Irpin was a quiet town where people lived and worked in peace. But Russia's invasion in February brought horrific violence there. As these pictures show of us walking through Kyiv, Senator Klobuchar and myself, you can see the destruction to the civilian targets, these apartment buildings. The Russian forces assaulted Irpin, with no regard for civilian property or civilian life. Everywhere we looked we saw destroyed business buildings, destroyed apartment buildings, cars. We saw bullet holes every with massive holes in the sides of buildings where you can see where tank rounds were fired through buildings.
“We also saw small craters in parking lots from mortars. Thankfully, a lot of the civilians were able to flee just before the Russians reached the city. Not all had the opportunity to flee. The mayor estimated that up to 300 civilians were killed in Russia's assault on the town. We also visited the nearby town of Bucha, a name that has unfortunately become synonymous with war crimes and Russia's atrocities during this war. During the few weeks that the Russian soldiers controlled this small town in March and April, unspeakable crimes were committed there, including rape and torture and executions of hundreds of civilians.
“Senator Klobuchar and I went to the church of St. Andrew, a beautiful church but sadly also the site of a mass grave dug by Russian soldiers. There the Russians buried dozens of innocent Ukrainians, civilians who were tortured and murdered at the hands a of the Russians. Our visits to Irpin and Bucha were sobering. It is one thing to see the destruction of apartments and other civilian targets on television. It’s another to see it first hand, and to talk to the people, the locals, the residents, about what happened. It is hard to believe that such things can happen in the 21st century. Senator Klobuchar and I also visited Hostomel airport outside of Kyiv.
“This photograph is of the airport and some of the destruction there. This is the Deputy Minister of Interior of Ukraine, who joined us there. This airport was meant to be Russia's forward operating base for its assault on Kyiv. It was assaulted by elite Russian airborne forces and experienced Chechen fighters on the very first day of the war, February 24, with a plan to secure the airport and use it for ferrying in troops and equipment, flying in Russian forces to take over Kyiv and to take over the country. However, these troops had landed deep into Ukrainian territory and brave Ukrainian soldiers, mostly inexperienced but highly motivated National Guard troops, counterattacked the Russian invaders at the airport.
“They fought ferociously. Remember, these were elite Russian airborne troopers who had come in to this airport. Yet they were defeated by Ukraine's national guardsmen, most of whom had never seen combat before. We had the opportunity to talk to some of the soldiers there at the Hostomel airport during Russia’s initial assault. The National Guard commander that was there that day told us about his units heroic efforts to defend the airport, that day, and the next day and the next day. And about the men he’d lost, including several captured soldiers still prisoners of Russia six months later. I asked him how they could have been successful, beating the odds.
“He said simply, ‘we were fighting to defend our families, our freedom, our homeland, and that's why we won.’ Hostomel airport is where the Ukrainian forces won their first major victory against the Russian invaders and where they stopped Russia's northern advance dead in its tracks. If you look at this map, you can see what the Russians intended to do and what actually happened. They intended to come into the airport here, north and east of town, take over Kyiv, topple the government, and eventually take over all of Ukraine. Eventually because of the fighting and the Ukrainian troops that pushed back, they ended up going through bell Belarus, back into Russia and now are in this area.
“So if this war had not been successfully prosecuted at Hostomel airport, it would have been a very different outcome. You would have seen Kyiv fall. You would have seen the president's government fall, the duly elected government of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, the Rada – the parliament – fall. This war could have been over very soon if that had happened. Thankfully it did not. Because of the bravery and courage of the Ukrainian National Guard. Hostomel airport to me is a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, of Ukrainian victory in the face of overwhelming odds. I was very honored to meet some of the heroes that were there that day and liberated that airport.
“We also met with members of Ukraine’s parliament, called the Rada, from various political parties, including David Arakhamia. David is the majority leader in the parliament and one of Ukraine's chief negotiators with the Russians. We spoke about the current state of the war and the future conflict, including possible paths of victory for Ukraine. The consensus was that the only way to Russia would come to the bargaining table would be if the sanctions could be further tightened. And if the Ukrainians continue to make progress on the battlefield. Victories in the east and the south give Ukraine more leverage at the bargaining table when negotiations begin. That's why it's so important, you see here in it the light blue, some of the success that the Ukrainian soldiers have had recently, even in the last week or so, as well as up here around Kharkiv.
“In each of our meetings – with the 101st airborne, the president, his top advisors, Secretary of Defense – we spoke extensively about ensuring proper oversight and accountability for U.S.-provided assistance. Including military assistance. The 101st airborne told us they had a sophisticated end-use monitoring program for weapons with the ability to track all of the military equipment being transferred to Ukraine. I'm happy to report that much progress is being made on that front. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars to support Ukrainians in the defense of their nation, and it was appropriate. But Ukrainian officials understand that it's important that we provide transparency to this funding. They do not take it for granted. They know this funding is ultimately accountable to the U.S. taxpayer.
“They are eager to demonstrate to their allies in the West that they are using these weapons and this equipment properly, and to great effect on the battlefield. We have good partners here who want to be sure we have this transparency. They have been providing significant visibility on the the weapons and equipment we have learned as it has been received from the United States and they will continue to do so. The goal is to build a tracked delivery of every single every weapon down to the serial number all the way to the front lines. We left this trip with several takeaways. First, the genuine gratitude of the Ukrainian people and the government of Ukraine. The feeling of common cause with the people of America. 40 countries plus have provided military equipment and other support.
“The Ukrainians recognize if it weren't for these weapons and training that the United States and our allies have provided, their country might very well be part of Russia today. And they know that America has led the efforts. Some officers from Embassy Kyiv told us a few weeks ago that they ordered takeover from a restaurant. They got some cheeseburgers and in the bag that was delivered to the embassy, the local restaurant personnel had written, thank you for the HIMARS. Remember, HIMARS are these rocket-assault systems. HIMARS has now become a household name in Ukraine. And they are so appreciative that they have the ability to defend themselves.
“Second, it was remarkable to Senator Klobuchar and me to learn just how much of appear impact our military assistance is having on the battlefield. In the opening stages of the war, that was the javelins, the anti-tank missiles that were a decisive weapon that halted the slow advance of the Russian armored columns towards Kyiv. Now in this stage of the war it's the HIMARS. And the anti-aircraft weaponry. Every day Ukrainian forces are pounding Russian positions all across the front line, particularly in the south. In fact, the day before we arrived in Kyiv, they launched their long-awaited counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. From what I hear in Ukraine, from both U.S. and Ukrainian officials, it is clear this counteroffensive would not have been possible without our help. HIMAR strikes have softened up Russia's position in the south and made it possible for the counteroffensive that's going on right here tonight as we speak.
“As you may recall, the Russian artillery was out of reach before and was just pounding Ukrainian forces and civilians with impunity. HIMARS have also struck command posts which are very important because that has crippled Russia's ability to effectively command and control its forces. They've also struck some very important bridges across the country, including this one here that's incredibly important for Russia to be able to provide its troops. This has isolated some of these Russian forces and prevented them from being able to maneuver to support one another. Our assistance in Ukraine is having a significant and positive impact on the battlefield and we not stop now and squander the progress we have made. The money is being well spent in the defense of freedom.
“The weapons we are providing are giving the Ukrainians a real chance at leveling this battlefield and giving them an opportunity to win back their lost territory. My third takeaway from this trip is that we need to do more for Ukraine, both in the short-term and the long-term. President Zelenskyy made an appeal to Senator Klobuchar and me for the U.S. to provide the Ukraine with ATACMS, which are Army Tactical Mission Systems. These can be fired from the HIMAR missiles currently in Ukriane and have longer reach than the missiles we're currently providing. It seems these missiles would be an important part of their arsenal from what we learned from both American and Ukrainian briefings. President Zelenskyy also requested more air defense systems. Short, medium, and long range.
“His rationale was simple – he wants the seven million Americans who have left his country to be able to return and they want to return. Having met with refugees in two previous trips this year, to the border of Poland and Moldova, and talked to these refugees, all of them want to go back. But when it is safe, they will be able to go back. So having more air defense systems at every range – short, medium and long-range – would enable people to come back. This is crucial because this is one of the issues now is that Ukraine's economy has been reduced by about 40 percent because of the terrible war that's being raged.
“If these people can come back to Ukraine, get back to work as normal, pay taxes, begin to become part of the economy again, this will be the most helpful thing to Ukraine's budget problems and economic woes. With a layered air defense, they could close its skies to the Russian missiles and get its people and life across much of Ukraine back to normal. I'm glad the Biden administration has already acted on some of the requests to provide more protection for the skies by pledging eight national advanced surface to air missile systems, or NASAMS, in conjunction with our German allies.
“I urge the Biden administration and other partners to do more to respond to this request. Ukraine is where we are engaging in the fight for freedom in this generation. It is not just about Ukraine. For years Russia and China have been saying that the West is in decline, that the United States and our allies are weak-willed and untrustworthy. That's certainly what President Putin thought when he invaded Ukraine. He thought he would divide NATO, divide the West, and we would not request respond. That Ukraine and our allies would fold. That we'd stand aside and let it happen. We proved him wrong so far. Not only by aiding Ukraine, but by protecting the region.
“The recent announcement that we're sending 250 of the best tanks in the world, the Abrams battle tanks, which were made in my home state of Ohio, to Poland, is a commitment to the region, a commitment to eastern Europe. This will send a critical message to Russia that the United States stands for freedom, not only in Ukraine, but all throughout Europe and the world. I thank our European allies for all they're doing as well, and urge them to continue to step up their support for Ukraine. Their own ability to remain free may very well rest on Ukraine remaining free. As one Ukrainian told me on this trip, Ukraine is the shield for democracy for Europe.
“We must show Vladimir Putin's cynicism about the West that he is wrong. America has always stood by its values, freedom, democracy, and the rights of nations to chart their own futures and live in peace with their neighbors. We cannot stop now. Most of us who serve in this chamber understand that, and so do the vast majority of the American people. Ten days ago, before I headed overseas, I marched in the Ukrainian Independence Day parade in Parma, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. I was with two national leaders in the Ukrainian community, Marta Liscynensky and Andy Futey. I proudly marched with them.
“There were over 60 entrants in this parade. It went on and on and on. The large turnout, both in terms of participants and spectators, was a demonstration of the support for Ukraine. Ohio is home to tens of thousands of Ukrainian Americans who do not want to see Ukraine become part of some renewed Russian empire. They want Ukraine, their homeland, to remain free and sovereign. The so-called nationalities community, from Slovenes to Pols, from Georgians to Lithuanians, all have the same understanding of the direct threat that Russia poses. They know Ukraine is on the front line of a larger battle for freedom. So many Ohioans have rallied together to support Ukraine, from all backgrounds.
“In closing, I want to thank everyone who helped make our important trip possible, including the State Department and our allies in Ukraine, including our military colleagues in Poland. It's important that Congress continue to show our strong support for Ukraine, particularly during this critical period for the country's future. The stakes are so high. This a fight about global freedom, self-determination, democracy, and respect for territorial integrity. All of us, the United States and our allies, need to stand up, because the alternative is a far more dangerous and volatile world, and that affects all of us. 42 freedom-loving allies of the United States have stood together in support of Ukraine, militarily.
“Dozens of others have helped in other ways. All nations around the world are carefully paying attention to what happens in Ukraine. Not just our allies, but also our adversaries. We have shown the world that America and allies didn't back down. After six weeks, not even after six months, we haven't faltered. We must commit to continuing to help Ukraine defend itself. Until Vladimir Putin understands that Russia's borders end where freedom begins. Slava Ukraini and Godspeed to the brave soldiers of Ukraine. Heroiam Slava. Thank you and I yield the floor.”