At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Presses Biden Administration Official on Defining What a Victory for Ukraine Looks Like, Continued Need to Reduce Europe’s Dependence on Russian Energy

May 12, 2022 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) pressed administration officials on how the Biden administration defines a victory in Ukraine. In particular, he questioned Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried on whether a victory for Ukraine should require the complete return of all of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, including the land that Russia illegally seized in 2014. Assistant Secretary Donfried also agreed with Senator Portman that European energy dependence on Russia is a key issue that must be addressed. Portman questioned the witnesses about the joint task force created by President Biden and President von der Leyen of the European Union and its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy. Senator Portman underscored the importance of the Biden administration supporting domestic production to support Europe’s transition away from Russian energy.

A transcript of Senator Portman’s questioning can be found below and the video can be found here.

Senator Portman: “Thank you Mr. Chairman and thank you for your steadfast support of Ukraine and specifically your work over the years on the human rights issues and now the issue of war crimes and I couldn’t agree with you more – we need to be sure that the International Criminal Court takes this as seriously as the Ukrainian prosecutors are. They handed down their first indictment this week, I saw, and there are so many instances we’re seeing constantly, again, last night on video, seeing clear war crimes being committed. So, I appreciate the work all of these public servants are doing every day. You all are waking up every morning, I know, with a thought in mind that America’s role here is to help Ukraine win and I want to talk about a little about how we define victory. When Secretary Austin said after meeting with President Zelenskyy that we can win this war against Russia, this happened a few weeks ago, I thought that was positive. On Monday, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, who all of us have had a chance to visit with, said, ‘of course the victory for us in this war will be liberation of the rest of the territory.’ So Assistant Secretary Donfried – first, just a yes or no, do you believe Ukraine can win this war?”

The Honorable Karen Donfried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs: “Yes.”

Senator Portman: “And how would you define victory? Would you define victory as requiring the return of all Ukraine sovereign territory, including that the Russians seized in 2014?”

Assistant Secretary Donfried: “Well Senator Portman, thank you for that question and thank you for your engagement on these issues. Your question very much relates to where Chairman Menendez began, which is are we in a position of believing that it is Ukraine that should be defining what winning means? And I agreed with Chairman Menendez’s statement on that and that is where the administration is. We believe Ukraine should define what victory means and our policy is trying to ensure Ukraine’s success, both by assistance supporting Ukraine and imposing cost on Russia.”

Senator Portman: “So the administration’s official position is that victory is getting Crimea back and getting Donetsk and Luhansk region back as well?”

Assistant Secretary Donfried: “Again, I believe that is for the Ukrainians to define.”

Senator Portman: “With regard to energy, which I think is our number one problem, with regard to sanctions, unbelievably Europe still sends roughly, we are told, $870 million a day back to Russia, in terms of energy receipts, funding the Putin war machine. I spoke to some of our European friends this week when they were in town for a Munich Security Conference-type meeting and I understand we now have some type of arrangement with Europe, through a task force, where we’re looking at making the switch from this dependency on Russia to other sources of fuel. But it’s going very slowly, in my view, and I know it’s easier for us to have made our decision than it is for the Europeans. We were sending about $50 million a day, by the way, to the Russians for the oil and gas we have now shut off coming to the United States. But I’d like to know two things – one, what is this task force with the EU doing? In one of the statements, it mentions a work plan the task force is following. What progress have they made in actually reducing reliance on Russian energy and can you describe in more detail this task force work plan that was mentioned?”

Assistant Secretary Donfried: “Senator Portman, I couldn’t agree with you more that energy is a key factor in Europe’s response to Russia’s war against Ukraine. And you are right, the dependence of many of our European allies and partners is far, far greater than what the U.S. had. Some of these countries are 100 percent dependent on Russia for their energy supplies. And that was the reason why President Biden and President von der Leyen on the EU side set up a task force—”

Senator Portman: “So what has the task force done? That is my question.”

Assistant Secretary Donfried: “The task force is trying to help the Europeans think about what are alternate supplies, if and as they wean themselves off Russian energy. You’ve seen the Europeans ban Russian coal, they are now working—”

Senator Portman: “That will be as of August, so they haven’t banned it yet.”

Assistant Secretary Donfried: “Right.”

Senator Portman: “They are still spending money on coal and natural gas is the largest single one, so it’s starting to get them think about it? I mean I just think about –people are dying on the battlefield, civilians are dying and we continue to fund this war machine through these enormous amounts of funds going back because of energy. The answer, obviously, from the U.S. point of view is to provide them an alternative and I’ve been critical, as you know, that the Biden administration has not done more to enhance our own production here, particularly with regard to natural gas that can be liquefied and sent to Europe. Just last week they had a record number of imports coming in to Europe, through their own ports and bringing in LNG, liquefied natural gas, but I would hope that we would expand our production here quickly and stop the policies that are stifling the production, particularly of natural gas and help with regard to the infrastructure that’s needed. And let the Europeans know that we are going to be there for them because we have the ability in this country to be able to provide that, as well as encouraging our allies, particularly in the Middle East, to do so. I hope that is what will happen. With regard to NATO aspiration, I hope we will also continue to say that we believe that this is something that Ukraine should aspire to and I offer questions for the record. For you Secretary Lewis, with regard to the drawdown authority and how long it will last, but thank you very much for your service and Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity.”

Assistant Secretary Donfried: “I understand your urgency and we share that sense of urgency. Thank you.”