On Senate Floor, Portman Notes 100 Days of Russia’s War Against Ukraine, Commends NATO Allies & Ohio’s Support for Ukraine
WASHINGTON, DC – This afternoon, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor for the 14th consecutive week while the Senate has been in session. Portman recently returned from abroad where he met with leadership of the United States European Command, received security briefings, and learned how the U.S. and its allies are coordinating assistance to Ukraine. He also met with U.S. troops, including some from Ohio. His stops included Europe, Romania, Moldova, and the Ukraine- Moldova border crossing as Russia’s invasion passes its 100th day of conflict. Portman commended our more than 40 allies contributing to the Ukrainian defensive military effort, highlighted the administration’s recent and long-delayed decision to provide Ukraine with High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and called attention to the EU’s recent sanctions package, which included a partial embargo against Russian oil. Finally, Senator Portman highlighted the efforts in Ohio to fundraise and deliver humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and co-chair and co-founder of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Senator Portman has long been an advocate for Ukraine and continues to push for further aid and bipartisan action to counter Russian aggression.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“So, madam president, last Friday was a grim milestone. It was the 100th day of the war in Ukraine, a war being waged by Russia against an ally and a democratic country, Ukraine. 100 days of brutal, unrelenting rocket and missile attacks throughout Ukraine, including attacks on a number of civilian targets like hospitals and churches and apartment buildings, schools. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens and soldiers have been killed and entire cities have been laid to rubble by the Russian barrages. For the 14th straight week when the Senate has been in session during this war, I have come to the Senate floor, again today, to discuss the status of this unprovoked and bloody invasion and to talk about what our role as Americans ought to be. First, it can never be emphasized enough that the people of Ukraine, professional soldiers and civilians and volunteers alike, have demonstrated courage, fortitude, and competence in beating all expectations in their existential battle against the odds to preserve their freedom and protect their homeland. I'm not surprised because I've seen the spirit and bravery of the Ukrainian people firsthand in my seven or eight or nine trips to Ukraine, including meetings with Ukrainian troops on the line of contact before this latest invasion, I have seen the Ukrainian spirit. To have held off Russia this long demonstrates their strength and their resiliency. But at this moment in time there is reason for concern too. President Zelenskyy just said that Russia now controls 20 percent of Ukraine's territory. Before the war started, Russia controlled just 7 percent of Ukraine after its illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the creation of a Russian backed separatist government in parts of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. If you look at this map, you can see here what Russia took in 2014, Crimea and part of the Donbas here, and look what they have now and look where the battles are occurring. I made another trip to the region last week, and what I heard was that thanks to the fierce Ukrainian resistance, the Ukrainians have had success in some parts of the country.
“Remember at one point Kyiv was under attack and there were Russian troops coming down from Belarus. They have been repelled. So there have been successes, there's no question about it. But Russia has now consolidated its troops and its firepower in this area, in the south and in the east, and they're making gains, incremental gains, but gains nonetheless. This is a crucial point in the war, and we have to redouble our efforts, and do that now to help Ukrainians defend themselves, to save Ukrainian lives, and to push the Russian invasion back. In my trip to the region last week, I also visited with U.S. troops and commanders in Germany and with heads of government, military leaders, and refugee coordinators in Romania and Moldova, before traveling to the United Kingdom, one of our staunchest allies, to thank them for their support. While I was in Moldova, I was able to cross the border into Ukraine where I met with Ukrainian refugees leaving the country, but also Ukrainians who were actually returning to Ukraine, as the place where they lived in this part of Ukraine, closer to Kyiv, was relatively stable.
“During my visits with the leaders of Moldova and Romania, I was able to thank each of them for support of Ukraine and learn more about what they need to be more effective partners in the region. In Germany, visiting with the U.S.-European command, I received detailed briefings on the state of the war in Ukraine as well as what the United States and our allies are doing to support Ukraine's brave defenders with military assistance. I also met with a senior Ukrainian liaison there from the Ukrainian military who gave me his very frank assessment of the war and what weapons his brothers in arms absolutely need to be able to continue their fight. As I mentioned earlier, Russia's recent gains on the eastern side of the country are cause for serious concern. Russia's main line effort, again, is here in the Donbas region. By all accounts, the Ukrainians are making the Russians pay dearly for every inch of territory, but they are taking territory incrementally, and the Ukrainians, both soldiers and civilians, are taking higher casualties. The primary reason is that Russian artillery has a longer range than the artillery that the Ukrainians possess. They're able to strike Ukrainian positions from safe distances where Ukrainian artillery cannot reach them. This unlevel playing field in eastern Ukraine must be addressed. This is why I've been urging the administration and our allies to immediately provide Ukraine with the weapons they are asking for, to allow them to have a fighting chance against the longer-range Russian artillery, specifically longer-range advanced rocket artillery systems.
“These systems which we have are superior in terms of distance, accuracy, reload speed, and mobility and would help immediately to level the playing field for Ukraine. I spoke about the need for these weapons in my floor speech on May 24th. I tweeted about it, I think six or seven times. After weeks of urging that we listen to Ukrainians and provide these systems, I was very pleased that the administration announced last Tuesday that they will provide Ukraine with High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. But I'm concerned, not just by how long it took and continues to take, but by how long it will take to get these systems in place in Ukraine while lives are being lost and Ukrainian territory is being taken. Moreover, the best information that I have is that the administration is only providing four of these HIMAR systems, which will have limited impact on the battlefield. I hope I'm wrong about that. I hope there are more on the way, but that's the best information we have. They are also only providing Ukraine with mid-range missiles, meaning that Ukrainian troops will need to fire closer to Russian positions and put themselves at greater risk. That may be okay because that may be comparable or maybe even slightly better than the Russian artillery, but they're not getting the special longer-range missiles.
“Lastly, it will take time to train the Ukrainian soldiers on how to operate this advanced system. All told, were told it will take roughly two weeks for these systems to arrive in theater and for Ukrainian troops to be sufficiently trained on them. In the meantime, Russia’s brutal advance will proceed and Ukrainian lives will continue to be lost. There is some good news on that front from another part of our allied front. Just yesterday the British announced they will send several multiple rocket systems to Ukraine, which is a larger version of what we're sending. This is very important. I appreciate what the U.K. is doing and I also urge other allied countries that have this longer range capacity to step up as well.
“In addition this week we learned that Spain is ready to send Leopard battle tanks and antiaircraft to Ukraine. This is a big change and we appreciate the fact that the Spanish military support has been increasing. They will provide training for Ukrainian army officials and soldiers on tanks, according to the report which cites government sources. Also, in Severodonetsk, the city the Russians were overrunning last weekend, reports indicate that Ukrainians have counterattacked and are putting up a fierce resistance to Russia's assault. This is this area right here. Although the battle is far from over, the Ukrainians are once again demonstrating their incredible bravery and resolve and showing the world that despite being outgunned they will not give up without a fight.
“After my briefings in Germany, I traveled to Romania where I met with the Prime Minister Ciuca, the Minister of Economy, State Secretary of Foreign Affairs, members of Parliament, and officials and volunteers involved with welcoming Ukrainian refugees. America could ask for no better friend than Romania. Our interests align on many issues, including energy security, defense spending, food security, standing against Russian aggression, and blocking malign Chinese investments in critical infrastructure. Our relationship is strengthened by the Romanian community in the United States – including in Ohio, where thousands trace their heritage back to that great country. 20 percent of Romania’s energy comes from nuclear energy, and the country plans to boost that to 40 percent in the coming years, with America as their partner of choice. I urge the Biden administration to do more to support Romania’s embrace of nuclear energy, especially with regard to the export-import bank, working with American energy companies. As their production increases I hope that Romania can become an energy hub that can help wean its neighbors off Russian energy. Romania has been smart. They have cut their ties with both Chinese nuclear energy and telecommunications companies, fully recognizing the threat that these companies pose and unlike other countries in Europe, they are not dependent on Russian energy.
“Romania has also been creative in finding ways to help Ukraine export its grain. This is a huge issue. We all know that Ukraine is a large exporter, whether it's sunflower oil, whether it’s corn, or whether it’s wheat. With regard to wheat, so many poor countries around the world depend on Ukrainian wheat. This photograph, unfortunately, is of a bombing attack only about a day and a half ago in the area of the port of Odessa and this is the Russians exploding a bomb at a grain bin. They are destroying wheat and other grains that would be destined for other poor countries in the world. This is what's going on today in Ukraine.
“There's something else that’s very important, and that's the ability of Ukraine to export this wheat that they do have in bins around the country. I discussed this at length with Prime Minister Ciuca of Romania. It’s extremely important because he has the ability to help with regard to a port in Romania to get some of this grain out that would normally go out through Odessa, which has been mined by the Russians. Here we are in the port of Constanta is here, this is Romania, this is Ukraine, here is the port of Odessa, over here is the Donbas where we were earlier. This port is the largest port on the Black Sea. It's difficult to get from Odessa to here, but in talking to the Prime Minister, he has some great ideas on how to deal with this. With the blockade of Odessa by Russia, there is the possibility to use rail or to use a canal system, and to use roads to get the grain to Constanta to be able to export it. I appreciate the fact that the Romanians are willing to work with us on that and it's incredibly important, again not just to Ukraine and their economy to have the ability to export, but it’s also incredibility important because of the dire warnings of global food security and price hikes if this blockade continues concerns all of us, it certainly concerns this Congress and this administration. These poor countries in Africa depend on Ukrainian wheat to avoid food shortages. Romanian officials told me they intend to work with Ukraine on this project and I appreciate that. Malign actors around the world, by the way, have used food as a weapon overtime. The Houthis in Yemen, by Assad in Syria, and now Putin in Russia.
“President Putin recently suggested that he would only lift his strangle hold on these ports, including Odessa, if the sanctions were lifted on Russia. Let me be clear, food should never be used as leverage in negotiations. Russia must lift its blockade immediately without any conditions, millions of lives depend on it. I would expect the administration and allies, including Turkey, to be coming up with contingency plans now if they do not have them already, to ensure that this wheat can be exported, and other grains as well.
“When it comes to the administration, President Biden has said recently, ‘that there will have to be a negotiated settlement’ to end this war. I urge the administration not to talk about ceding ground in Ukraine. This does not signal resolve or clarity, it signals weakness. It will not help us break the blockade in the Black Sea and it will not help Ukraine win this war. We should be doing what we can with allies, short of boots on the ground, helping Ukraine take back every inch of their territory that Russian has taken from them since 2014. That is fair, just, and what Ukrainian officials themselves have been calling for.
“Our allies in eastern Europe know what's at stake here, Romania is great example. A staunch NATO ally, Romania is committed to the military defense of the alliance and meets NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense. They actually told me when I was there that they plan to raise it to 2.5 percent in the next few years in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“After Romania, I visited Moldova where I met with the Prime Minister Gavrilita, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and various parliamentarians. I was impressed with what I saw. As I told the prime minister, Moldova is a small country that punches way above its weight. Moldova has graciously accepted almost half a million Ukrainian refugees through its border. More per capita than any other nation. Unfortunately the war in Ukraine is far from over and if Russia continues to gain ground or opens up an assault on Odessa, which many fear, it will send another massive wave of refugees westward to Moldova. While in Moldova, I traveled to Palanca, a border crossing that is jointly run by Moldovan, Ukrainian, and EU Frontex border security guards. While at the border I had an opportunity to speak with Ukrainians whose lives have been turned upside down by this war. Some were leaving Moldova, some were coming back into Moldova, but they all expressed to me their fears that Russia will gain ground and expand their brutal assault to other parts of the country, including Odessa, which is only about 30 miles away from where I was.
“Now, as the war rages on and we cross 100 days of this brutal invasion, I want to highlight another recent development. I have mentioned on this floor many times the need for stronger sanctions against Russia, particularly with regard to energy, but also with trade and banking. In particular, I pointed out that Europe sends Russia roughly $870 million a day in gas and oil receipts that help fund the Putin war machine. So, I was pleased that late last week that European Union took a positive step in partially banning Russia oil into the E.U. Specifically, these phased in sanctions will prohibit the seaborne crude oil from Russia and petroleum products over the next eight months.
“This phased in embargo, I believe along with countries like Germany to stop pipeline oil all together, is expected to impact approximately 90 percent of Russian oil imports into Europe by the end of this year. Combined with the ban on coal imports that Russia has agreed to earlier this year that will take affect in August, Europe is undoubtedly making progress in cutting off that nearly $1 billion that goes to Russia to feed the war machine. Even better, given the situation on the ground in Ukraine today, would be a full embargo against all Russian energy immediately as the United States has done. But this is progress. Given their greater dependence on Russian oil and gas, by the way, Europe’s energy independence from Russia will require a different kind of leadership from the United States as we establish a new energy world order. Where the U.S. can help most is to get more energy on the global market now to help backfill Russia’s energy needs and stabilize prices. Instead of looking to countries like Iran and Venezuela to produce more energy, this administration should be pursuing policies to expand our domestic oil and gas production, as well as renewables, nuclear, all of the above. In the longer term for our national security and that of our allies, the United States needs to take steps to lead the world in developing and exporting the next generation of energy technologies, like advanced nuclear and hydrogen.
“The reality is this: it shouldn't have taken a global energy crisis for us to realize it. Before this administration took office, concerns had been raised about the prospect about aggressive or idealistic policies to threaten the reliability and security of our energy supplies here in the United States. We need to act and we need to act now. Providing LNG to Europe is key to Europe being able to wean themselves from Russian gas. The fact is, we need to unleash American energy. We have the resources here to help our friends and allies, we can help everyone so that they don't need to take another dime and give it to Vladimir Putin's war machine.
“Right now Ukrainians continue to suffer and the world must not turn a blind eye. According to the United Nations recently nearly seven million Ukrainian refugees fled since the war began and another eight million Ukrainians are internally displaced. This invasion has flatten beautiful cities in Ukraine like Mariupol. Where, according to local officials, at least 22,000 residents have been killed.
“I will close with this. I have now come to the floor every week since just before President Putin has put this illegal, and unprovoked invasion upon the people of democratic Ukraine, who just wanted to live in peace with their neighbors. Their neighbors, by the way, include Russia.
“Someone asked why a senator from Ohio should care about this fight in Ukraine. I told them every American should care, this is a fight during our generation where democracy is on the line. Some folks here may not agree with that, I understand, but Ukrainians get it. They know what it is like to live under the thumb of an authoritarian, of Russia, and they broke away from that and towards democracy first in 1991 and again, as we all saw, in 2014. I was in Ukraine then in 2014, right after the Revolution of Dignity where Ukrainians decided for themselves that they wanted to turn to us and to Europe to pursue a hopeful future of freedom and democracy. Now President Putin is trying to extinguish that hope. We must not let him. I am also motivated by the tens of thousands of Ukrainian-American friends and constituents in my home state of Ohio, some of whom joined me for an update last Friday where I learned about the amazing Ohio volunteer efforts to help Ukraine.
“But even if I didn't have one constituent of Ukrainian descent, or know a single Ukrainian, I would be on the floor condemning Russia atrocities. As Russian forces target Ukrainian civilians, people from across the globe are showing their support for Ukrainians. In Ohio, we have assured Ukrainians that America has their back.
“At The Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson participated in a call with President Zelenskyy and she said she asked him how Ohio State could help. President Zelenskyy said, ‘how about helping to rebuild our cities that have been flattened.’ What did President Johnson say? ‘Count on us.’ That’s been the consistent theme from the Buckeye state. Count on us. In fact, student organizations like the Ukrainian Society and Desserts for Donations have held several fundraisers around the state, including selling buttons, pins, desserts, all of which was donated to Revived Ukrainian Soldiers, a group that provides medical and humanitarian aid. I’ve listed before on this floor a dozen other great causes in Ohio that have been helpful with regard to the humanitarian effort in Ukraine.
“Ohioans get it. They know that America can't afford to stay on the sidelines and be a spectator. I commend the administration for the actions taken, but as I have said before, we need to do more, and more quickly. At this crucial time in the battle, freedom and democracy is at stake. And the ability for countries to have their territorial integrity respected. America cannot afford to be tentative. Instead we must lead with allies in protecting the post-World War II order. We are being watched by those allies, 41 of whom have joined us in helping Ukraine defend itself, but we are also being watched by our adversaries, who must see strength and determination and willingness to lead. I yield the floor.”