Ambassador Brink’s Remarks at Nv’s Ukraine in 2023 Forum

January 19, 2023

Vitaly, thank you very much. It’s good to be here. Thanks for this opportunity to have a conversation with you. I’m really honored to be on the stage today with Serhiy, Tomas, and Viacheslav.

I wanted to start by expressing my deep condolences and sorrow for what happened yesterday. I know that a lot of Ukrainians in the government, outside the government, on my team, in Washington, are hurting right now because of the terrible tragedy yesterday with the Minister of Interior, and other members of government, and also people on the ground, including children. We take this as a big loss for Ukraine, but also for us, and I know my President, my Secretary of State, other officials expressed their condolences as well.

I wanted to start with this because it’s been a hard few days, and even start of the year. It’s not long ago, on Saturday, with the terrible Russian attack on Dnipro. And I understand now 45 people – including, I think 6 children – who have been killed. It’s a horrible, horrible situation. And before that, some very difficult times over the Christmas and New Year period.

I’ve been here nearly 7 months – it feels like a lot longer already. But I know for you all, you’re living it every single day.

As I said to my own staff, you know, when you look day-to-day, and these days, and for me too, for all of us, can be extraordinarily long and extraordinarily hard. As hard as, I think, any diplomacy that I’ve ever done. And if you look at it day-to-day, sometimes it feels like it’s almost too hard.

But this, what I’m going to say — it’s much more optimistic than this. This is really a hard, hard terrible moment that we’re facing, that Ukraine is facing, right now. Because I think when you look at it in the bigger sweep of things, it’s actually a very different story.

I want to just set my remarks in three phases. One, just a little bit of a look back. And second, to talk a little bit about U.S. and international support to Ukraine. And then third, to look ahead.

I have to say, I’m from the Midwest in America. So, we kind of go by a couple of codes. One is, you always stay optimistic no matter what, you work as hard as possible to get where you’re trying to go, and you never give up. And I think this is kind of an important way that, at least as I’m framing it, the way that I go about my work here, and how I see and get a lot of confidence out of how I see Ukrainians responding to this horrific, full-scale invasion.

Looking back, I had the chance to put an opinion piece into NV, and that piece talks about how, as President Biden has said that this war must be a strategic failure [for Russia]. That’s kind of our starting point, our policy starting point. And in that opinion piece, I said that Russia has already failed – it’s failed in its attempt to capture Kyiv, it’s failed in its attempt to overrun the frontline defenders, it’s failed in its attempt to break the will of the Ukrainian people with the horrible attack on the electrical grid and energy infrastructure.

But in this talk I want to talk about Ukraine’s successes. And I think if you just look back at the sweep of things, and what might have been, and the concerns of where things were going to go back in February, Ukraine has successfully repelled Russia from the capital – incredibly important. But also from critical cities, including in Kharkiv and other places to keep Russia from taking over the country, and also re-captured so much territory in the east, in the south, and liberated so many towns that had been captured. And seeing those successes, maybe culminating most recently in Kherson, has been really satisfying to see. But, obviously, it remains such a tough fight.

But not just on the battlefield, and since October 10th with waves of the attacks, you all, we all, have endured in the capital and other cities around the country, it’s quite remarkable what Ukrainians electrical and heating operators have been able to do, and air defenders have been able to do, to keep – at least for some parts of the day – the electricity and the lights and the heat on. It’s remarkable.

I also think Ukraine has done a great job under the leadership of President Zelenskyy and through the diplomatic effort in rallying the world and calling out to people that this is a fight for freedom, that the success of Ukraine is the success of the free world. Which is what I believe, and I think we all believe.

Just turning to U.S. support. I think, ultimately, Ukraine’s success so far has been a result of President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine who have, frankly, said “no, this [invasion] is not going to be successful,” the unbreakable will of the population, and also the courage of your heroes – first and foremost the frontline fighters.

I lost two members of my Mission, of my Embassy, Ukrainian staff on the front lines. I know everybody here has lost somebody, or somebodies, or more. We feel it as well.

In addition to the heroes on the frontlines, it’s the people working in the healthcare sector, the emergency sector, energy sector – all across the country. Volunteers, like I’ve never seen before. Some of whom are on this stage. It’s just remarkable to see that response.

I’m really proud that America and the Biden administration, U.S. Congress, and the American people have really responded with support. And for us, the support that we have given you, I can tell you is bipartisan, it goes across our political parties, it goes across every segment of America.

I have relatives all over America – on the east coast, on the west coast, in the Midwest – and this support is palpable and real, and you see it when you talk to Americans. When I’ve been able to go back, what I get is, “thank you for what you’re doing to help Ukraine.” And what I see are Ukrainian flags – I’ve never seen this before in my country ever – a flag other than the U.S. flag hang all over houses in the United States.

It’s because we share your love of freedom, it is the foundation of our own country as well. And we share the understanding that freedom isn’t free, and that it costs, and that it’s something we all have to fight for.

I am proud – though I know there are a lot of questions about this – in terms of what we provided in security assistance. It’s now about $25 billion worth, but most importantly, I think, is the capabilities.

I always get the question about the next capability, but I look back at what we’ve provided, starting with Javelins and Stingers, and moving to HIMARS and NASAMS, and now Patriots and Bradleys. And we’re going in a good direction and we’re going closely with our Ukrainian partners as the battlefield situation changes. And we’re going to continue doing this. We have commitment from the President, from the Congress to do it. And that’s what we’re going to do.

On the economic side, this is really unprecedented for us, but we provide over a billion dollars of direct budget support [each month] and we’ve been doing so since last spring. So that’s now $13 billion in direct budget support, and that’s going to teachers, emergency workers, health care workers, and others who are supporting all of the people that are living but also fighting the war.

And then humanitarian assistance, almost $2 billion so far. And that is going to help winterization efforts and also to help people in recently liberated areas such as Kherson.

Finally, I wanted to talk a little bit about looking ahead. As I said, I started out by saying, I’m optimistic by nature, and you have to be in my profession. And you certainly have to be, I think, if you’re going to be here.

But that optimism is not borne out of nothing. It’s borne out of what I see happening here and what I know is going to be Ukraine’s success. I don’t know exactly when, but I am 100% sure that Ukraine will be successful.

Our position has been Putin can end this war now if he leaves, if he departs Ukraine. So he can stop this war whenever he chooses and remove his forces from Ukraine.

As the national security adviser [Jake Sullivan] said, “our focus right now is to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs, the tools it needs, to win the war and put itself in the best position for negotiation at some point of President Zelenskyy’s choosing.”

President Zelenskyy has articulated his vision for a just peace that’s consistent with the UN charter, that’s consistent with the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We support this. We support it because it’s the right thing to do. We also support this because we also think it’s in our interest and in the interest of every democracy in the world.

Because caving in to Russia’s aggression not only has negative implications for Ukraine – existential ones – but also for Europe and also around the world. To me, this is fundamental and very important for us to understand, but also for the American people to understand.

We also support accountability and justice for these horrific war crimes that have happened in Ukraine. I don’t think this will be fast, but it’s something that needs to be done, pursued consistently, and for every single war crime that has happened.

Our position is in support of a sovereign, independent, democratic and prosperous Ukraine.

And to do that, it’s really important for you, in our view, to win the war. And then also win the future, and fulfill this aspiration of Ukrainians for a society, a country, that allows people to pursue their dreams, and to do so in a way where you have institutions and structures that allow, that require, rule of law and opportunities for every single Ukrainian citizen.

I’m totally confident that you’re going to get there, that you will succeed, that Ukraine will succeed. Because as I said, we share your values, we share the love of freedom, you have us a partner – and not just us, you have the G7, and you have international partners around the world.

And because this fight is a fight for Ukraine, but also fundamentally a fight that impacts every single one of us, we all have to see you win and support that victory. Thank you very much.