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February 24, 2023

DGAP Keynote on Ukraine

Ambassador Gutmann at DGAP
Ambassador Gutmann’s keynote speech about the transatlantic commitment to support Ukraine and to push back against Russian aggression.

Thank you, Martin Bialecki for that kind introduction and thank you to the German Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this important discussion tonight.

Fellow panelists, colleagues, and friends, I appreciate your support of this event and the cause punctuating our times.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight marks the eve of the one-year anniversary of Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine, the largest land war in Europe since World War Two. Let us remember that, like Germany, Ukraine is a sovereign, democratic, European state, one that threatens no one. Russian disinformation wants to make the world question these simple facts – we know better.

This is a war that has seen one state actor – Russia – put at risk the rules and norms which, since the end of World War Two, have provided unprecedented security and prosperity, for people around the world. We are all threatened because each day– for the last 365 days – Putin has decided to keep pressing ahead with this brutal, senseless, and illegal war.

My message tonight is – what a difference a year makes.

The countless acts of Russian aggression against the Ukrainian people are egregious. The physical scale of brutality is staggering, and the moral costs of Russian aggression are even greater.

From the starting days of this unprovoked war, Russian forces and mercenaries have engaged in atrocities without shame and war crimes without compunction. Their illegal actions are an assault on our common values and our common humanity. Our shared values demand that we do everything we can to hold all those responsible for these crimes accountable. There can be no impunity.

Russians are also feeling the reverberations of this senseless war – Putin’s war of choice. Despite what President Putin said this week, the United States and the nations of Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia.

A year ago, at the Munich Security Conference, Vice President Harris publicly announced that “we stand in this decisive moment, with all eyes on Ukraine.” As Putin lined up his forces and circled Ukraine, many were still wondering about his intentions. Would our best efforts to urge Moscow to come to its better senses work? How would NATO, allies, and partners react in the likely event of a Russian invasion? It was a time of questioning.

What a difference a year makes.

Putin thought he could divide us. Instead, we are stronger and more aligned than ever.

Russian troops thought they could storm into Kyiv and install a puppet government. Instead, the inhabitants of that city and many more showed their would-be-invaders that Ukrainian democracy was real and worth fighting for.

The Kremlin thought it could hold the world hostage through energy. Instead, America’s allies and partners in Europe – you all sitting here – took the necessary steps to eliminate dependence on Russian gas. In the process, you have lit the way for a greener future.

So much so that Vice President Harris could proudly declare last weekend, at this year’s MSC, that “Kyiv is still standing, Russia is weakened. The transatlantic alliance is stronger than ever. And most importantly, the spirit of the Ukrainian people endures.”

What a difference a year can make.

Even though we have come so far, I am here tonight to urge everyone in this room to keep going further so that one year from now we may look back and continue to say: what a difference a year can make. We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

What we have witnessed over the past year is nothing short of historic. It is proof perfect that our shared values, our shared interests, and most importantly – our shared morality –transcend national boundaries and demand that we do our utmost to stand with Ukraine.

There are not enough words to fully describe my admiration for the Ukrainian people’s courage in the face of Putin’s brutality. But permit me to say a few choice words here tonight, in the spirit of our essential ethical unity. Ukraine today is a country of heroes. Heroes who continue to face brutal aggression. The agents of that aggression must be held to account.

We know that Russia’s forces have committed execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children. We know they are torturing civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution, and mock executions as well as rape.

Russian officials have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families. These acts are not random or spontaneous. They are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population. Against our Ukrainian brethren, Russia is carrying out nothing short of crimes against humanity.

The extent of human suffering inflicted by the Kremlin on the Ukrainian civilian population is egregious—and it is staggering.

I stand here this evening to say that our shared and most basic values demand that we do everything we can to hold accountable all those who responsible for these crimes. There can be no impunity.

Together, we will help defend Ukraine’s democracy and sovereignty. The United States of America will work with Germany and all our transatlantic partners to pursue peace and justice for the people of Ukraine. And we will all stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. Slava Ukraini. 

Let me be as clear as can be: Russia remains the sole obstacle to peace in Ukraine. Russia’s savage attacks on Ukraine are the latest demonstration that President Putin currently has no interest in meaningful diplomacy; that short of erasing Ukraine’s independence, he will try to force Ukraine into a frozen conflict, lock in his gains, rest and refit his forces, and then, at some point, attack again. Russia and Russia alone can end this war TODAY.

As President Biden said: Winning the war in Ukraine is to get Russia out of Ukraine completely. Recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. As our President underscored in his historic visits to Kyiv and Warsaw this week, the moral imperative placed before us compels us to act, to act now, and to act until Ukraine determines victory has been achieved. The fight in Ukraine has far reaching global ramifications. At stake are the basic moral foundations of freedom, sovereignty, security, the rule of law, and human rights around the world.

The United States will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes so Ukraine can continue to defend itself, so Ukraine can be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table when the time comes, so that Ukraine can then re-build and continue to strengthen its democracy.

You may know that I like to quote my fellow Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin. As we stand on the doorstep of the one-year mark of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, please allow me to draw upon one of his more famous sayings: “Lost time is never found again.” A year of senseless and unprovoked violence represents a year lost for countless Ukrainians and others affected by this war.

Think about what our Ukrainian brothers and sisters have missed. Birthdays, weddings, celebrated together. A safe home. Warm meals filled with the laughter of family and friends. A year they could have been pursuing their livelihoods, but instead were conscripted or forced to leave.

Yet lost time is the best case. Estimates put the loss of lives in this war in the hundreds of thousands, many of them civilians in this brutal war – Putin’s war.

Time is not on Putin’s side. Ukrainians will continue to be tried and tested, as they have been over this past year. Transatlantic unity will continue to be tried and tested, as it has been over this past year. I am certain that Ukraine will rise to the task, and that we will rise to the task. What a difference a year makes.

And so as we recognize tomorrow’s solemn anniversary, let us all remember the enormous human cost of this war. Let us draw strength from the examples of brave Ukrainians as we demonstrate our collective solidarity with their heroic fight.

Now that we all know what a difference a year makes, I look forward to working with you to make the next year count even more.