At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Presses Secretary of State Blinken on Increasing Energy Sanctions on Russia, More Efficient Transfer of Military Assistance to Ukraine
WASHINGTON, DC – During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a number of Ukraine-related issues. Portman pressed Secretary Blinken on the role the U.S. is playing in helping Europe reduce its reliance on Russian energy. Specifically, Portman asked for an update on the strategy and objectives of the recently established U.S.-EU joint task force for energy security. Energy receipts continue to be Russia’s number one source of revenue, funding its aggression against Ukraine. The U.S. has led the world in prohibiting the import of Russian energy products, but Europe’s heavy reliance on Russian energy has prevented them from doing the same. Estimates show that Europe continues to purchase approximately $870 million each day of energy from Russia. Portman underscored the important role U.S. energy producers will play in supporting Europe’s transition away from Russian energy, and Portman questioned how the administration was supporting domestic energy production in order to backfill Europe’s needs. Portman continues to point out that President Biden and his administration have, from day one, stifled domestic energy production, such as implementing a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters. Portman stressed the importance of an all-of-the-above energy strategy and that our domestic energy policies will directly impact on our national security and ability to support Europe in their transition away from Russian energy.
Senator Portman also spoke to Secretary Blinken about the new Ukraine Security Assistance Coordinator, something Senator Portman and others in Congress have called for. Last week, President Biden appointed LGen Terry Wolff to be the Coordinator. When asked by Portman how the State Department was going to coordinate with LGen Wolff on improving the arms transfer process to Ukraine, Secretary Blinken said he would work with LGen Wolff very closely to provide assistance as effectively and efficiently as possible; when asked who LGen Wolff reported to – either Secretary Blinken, the President, or the National Security Advisor – Secretary Blinken was unable to provide an answer.
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 Secretary Blinken for appearing before us again. It’s very important that you went to Kyiv, both to meet with President Zelenskyy and, importantly, to demonstrate our support for the people of Ukraine. It’s now been two months since the war on Ukraine began, and with our help, they are fighting – with heart, with conviction, with some success. And with our help, they can win this thing, but it needs a lot more help. I am glad we are returning the U.S. Embassy to Kyiv. I am pleased the administration just appointed a Ukraine Security Assistance Coordinator, as you know some of us had called for that. We continue to be concerned about some of the red tape that’s involved in some of the military transfers, so this should help quite a bit. We must continue to address Russia’s barbaric actions with speed, with urgency, and with confidence that the right weapons can contribute to a victory. The Kremlin must know that the free world stands united against them. I am also pleased that the administration has finally nominated a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. As you know, I believe this is long overdue and I look forward to Bridget Brink’s testimony before this Committee as soon as possible and I talked to the Chairman about that.
“Energy revenues continue to be the main source of income in fueling Russia’s war machine. As you know, energy is their top export. In fact, receipts from energy alone accounts for about 40 to 50 percent of the Russian budget. We’ve got to cut off this funding, if we want to stop the increasing war effort from Russia. I was pleased the administration banned the import of Russian oil, natural gas, and coal into the United State in early February, but that was only about eight percent of our total petroleum imports. Other countries import a lot more. The larger issue at hand, of course, is the E.U. and their reliance on Russian energy. Approximately 40 percent of the E.U. gas comes from Russia, as well as more than a quarter of its oil. This means, Mr. Secretary, Europe is continuing to send Russia roughly $870 million a day. $870 million a day in energy revenues, compared to about $50 million a day the U.S. was purchasing on a daily basis. Again, money used to fuel the Putin war machine.
“Last month, I was pleased with the announcement of the joint Task Force with the E.U. on Energy Security, for better coordination. It has now been exactly a month since this task force was established. Can you please provide us today with an update on the efforts and progress as it relates to reducing European reliance on Russian energy? When can we expect a plan detailing the objectives of the task force and a strategy to achieve them?”
The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State: “Senator, thank you very much. Can I first start by applauding your leadership on Ukraine, both as head of the caucus here, but also just your continuous engagement going back to the Munich Security Conference and well before that. It’s greatly appreciated, it’s made a real difference. With regard to energy, you’re right; this is one of the critical areas where we have to continue to move forward, and we are and we will. The big challenge is, of course, European dependence on Russian energy that has built up over decades. Particularly natural gas, but also oil. Let me say a couple of things very quickly. First, the Europeans have, I think, genuinely ambitious plans to move away from this reliance on Russian energy. The challenge is to put them into effect and the other challenge is that in some cases this is not, no pun intended, like flipping a light switch. It is a process and that’s what we’re working with them on implementing. So a few things to that end. First, I think you are likely to see in the coming weeks, further progress on the oil side of the equation, in terms of Russian imports. Gas is a bigger challenge. It’s particularly acute for certain countries, including, notably, Germany, but also others. We have redirected significant amounts of LNG to Europe in the short-term to help them compensate for any losses that they might have in moving away from Russian gas. That process is continuing and we want to make sure, as they do that, there is backfill and there is significant amounts that are going to that.”
Senator Portman: “Secretary, just two quick questions. One, with regard to the task force, when can we expect a report from the task force, detailing what the objectives are and what the strategy is. And second, with regard to LNG shipments, you just mentioned that, actually this is a central component of the initiative – the U.S. is now saying that we’re going to give them 15 billion cubic meters this year and an additional 50 over the next decade. How has the administration and Task Force engaged with energy producers in the United States to follow through on these commitments? Your budget increases taxes on natural gas production as you know, the administration continues to take steps to discourage new leasing for oil and gas development on public lands and waters. These and other policies that stifle domestic natural gas production are going to make it difficult, it seems to me, to meet our objectives, so how can we keep our E.U. commitment and reduce this massive flow of funds into Russia?”
Secretary Blinken: “Senator I am not an expert on the domestic policy component of this. I will say, a couple of things, we doubled the LNG exports to Europe since last year, actually, excuse me, since early this year, they’ve already doubled. The president has urged domestic producers to speed up production. There are, as you know, thousands of licenses that have gone unused and, hopefully, they will be used to increase production. The Task Force – let me come back to you on when we can anticipate providing a report – but it’s focused on diversification, it’s focused on curbing demand and making sure the backfill is there. It’s also necessary to focus on an energy transition because ultimately that is going to be the most effective way, over time, in making sure that there is genuine energy security.”
Senator Portman: “Secretary, one thing I wanted to ask you. Let me just state the obvious, which is that you have a strong interest in these domestic policy issues now because to stop the Russian war machine from getting all of this funding – which is in your strong interest, I know – you’re going to have to be a voice for some reason, in terms of an all-of-the-above energy strategy, including not stifling fossil fuels at this point because we need them in terms of natural gas to Europe.
“On the coordinator, Lt General Terry Wolff who has now been appointed – I was glad to see that, as you know, I’m delighted we have somebody to be there as a coordinator. How is the State Department going to coordinate with him in improving the arms transfer process? Which is your bailiwick. And, does he report to you, the President, or the National Security Advisor?”
Secretary Blinken: “Terry is someone who I’ve worked with for a long time. He, as you may remember, was one of the lead coordinators for the Counter ISIL Coalition that was established back in 2015. In 2016, we worked very closely together. We continue to work very closely together in this effort and he’ll be working with both us at the State Department, as well as reporting to the White House. But we have a long history of working closely together. Let me say, just repeat very quickly something I said earlier, which is this process of transferring equipment to the Ukrainians is moving, in my judgement, very effectively and very efficiently. The drawdown authorities that we’ve used now eight times – where as it used to take sometimes weeks to get equipment to the Ukrainians – we are now getting things from the point the decision is made to drawdown to getting it into Ukrainian hands in as little as 72 hours. So this is moving quickly, we have cut through a lot of red tape. At the same time, we’ve been going around the world, looking for other countries that may have equipment that Ukraine can find useful. When it has come to authorizing the transfer of that equipment, if it has U.S.-origin technology in it, I’ve done those authorizations in 24 hours or less to make sure, to your point, that we’re moving things quickly. But having said all of that, we want to make sure to continue to drive this as effectively and efficiently as possible. Terry will focus on that. I’ll work directly with him, so will the White House and the Pentagon.”
Senator Portman: “Who will General Wolff report to? Who will he report to?”
Secretary Blinken: “Let me come back to you on exactly what the reporting line is, I don’t know what the exact reporting line is but I can tell you he’ll work directly with me, as well as with the White House and, of course, the Pentagon.”