WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing entitled “Countering Russian Aggression: Ukraine and Beyond.” Testifying before the Committee were Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Erin McKee, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander.
“As I said since before Putin’s invasion … I will say it again to the Ukrainian people: We will continue to support your heroic efforts to achieve victory. We will stand with you as you fight for your homeland against a dictator trying to erase your nation by force. We will work with you so that a free and democratic Ukraine that respects the will and rights of its people survives and flourishes after this war comes to an end,” Chairman Menendez said. “The United States and our democratic allies must show the authoritarian regimes of the world that the invasion and subjugation of free peoples is unacceptable in the modern world.”
Find a copy of the Chairman’s remarks as delivered below.
“This hearing will come to order.
Almost one year ago, as Vladimir Putin amassed his forces along the border with Ukraine, most of the world assumed the Russian military was one of the most powerful on earth.
But for nearly a year, brave Ukrainians—from army recruits to retired grandmothers—have exposed just how weak the Kremlin’s military really is.
Because a leader who sends his soldiers into battle with almost no food is weak.
An army that gives its recruits instructions to use their weapons taken from Wikipedia is weak.
Generals using maps from the 1960s to fight a war in 2022 are weak.
Nothing underscores Putin’s weakness more than his reliance on Wagner group mercenaries.
A group that Putin’s chef, a former convict, a man sanctioned by the United States, leads like a paramilitary death squad.
A group recruiting violent criminals from Russian prisons and sending them into battle as cannon fodder.
Human Rights Watch documented one incident in Central African Republic where Wagner mercenaries stopped a group of unarmed men at a roadblock.
As the witnesses began to pray out loud, the Russians forced the men to kneel and one-by-one, they shot them in the head.
These aren’t just criminals. They are war criminals.
And they are leading the fight in Ukraine today for Putin because Putin is failing spectacularly.
In fact, I’m considering legislation to strengthen our tools to counter the Wagner group, prohibiting transactions with those buying their natural resources, as well as restricting security assistance to countries supporting this mercenary army.
Their reach is growing as Putin gets weaker.
And the weaker he gets, the more dangerous he gets, and the more suffering he causes.
How many civilians will die from Russian missile attacks in Ukraine because Putin can’t achieve his battlefield goals?
What will Putin do as he gets more desperate? More letter bombing campaigns in NATO countries? Threats of nuclear war?
I’ve been supportive of the Administration’s response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
From supplying critical weapons systems and trainings, to shoring up our allies in Europe, to supporting the millions of refugees who have fled this war, including welcoming so many to the United States.
But, as I have said all along, this support should have come sooner.
Ukraine’s embrace of good governance reforms in the years leading up to Russia’s invasion directly contributed to the success we are seeing today.
While we are still learning more details, I want to commend President Zelenskyy and his cabinet for their serious oversight plans for U.S. and international assistance.
As I said since before Putin’s invasion and I will say it again to the Ukrainian people: We will continue to support your heroic efforts to achieve victory.
We will stand with you as you fight for your homeland against a dictator trying to erase your nation by force.
We will work with you so that a free and democratic Ukraine that respects the will and rights of its people survives and flourishes after this war comes to an end.
We will continue to work with those countries Putin threatens, from encouraging energy diversification to shoring up democratic institutions, to stop Putin from spreading his poisonous autocratic savagery.
And we must also support those Russians who are in prison because they were brave enough to stand up against Putin’s war machine.
I am disappointed that the Administration has not met its statutory deadline to make a determination with respect to Magnitsky sanctions in response to the arrest of Vladimir Kara Murza.
Secretary Nuland, I hope you will tell us when we will get a response to our letter on this matter.
I look forward to getting a full picture today from this entire panel on what the Department of State, the Pentagon and USAID is doing to support Ukraine and counter future Russian aggression.
In the immediate term, I think there is a question that needs to be answered. What is your strategy for helping Ukraine achieve victory?
How are we taking the lessons of the Ukraine war to think about preparing ourselves and our partners for potential aggression from Russia in the future?
Because while Ukrainians are on the front lines of fighting for democracy and the rule of law now, we know that Putin’s ambitions do not end on his borders.
The United States and our democratic allies must show the authoritarian regimes of the world that the invasion and subjugation of free peoples is unacceptable in the modern world.
It is a violation of the international rule of law. That is what is also at stake in Ukraine. Yes it is about the freedom of the Ukrainian people to decide their own future. But it is also about standing up for the universal proposition that you cannot by force take another country’s territory.
With that let me turn to the distinguished Ranking Member for his remarks. Senator Risch.”