November 14, 2019
Minister Zahorodnyuk, Admiral Voronchenko, Admiral Kabanenko, I want to thank you, first of all, for inviting me to speak this morning. I also want to thank Deputy Minister Petrenko and Admiral [inaudible] for joining us here for this conference, the third international Maritime Security Conference.
I’m proud that the United States has supported this conference since its inception three years ago.
In fact, since Russia first attacked Ukraine in 2014, the United States and our European partners have been united in the defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The United States has always supported the ideals that this conference represents; that is, to maintain peace and security at sea.
Last year, this conference took place only three days after the Russian Federation flagrantly attacked Ukrainian ships as they were sailing peacefully through international and Ukrainian waters.
The attack resulted in the illegal detention of 24 Ukrainian sailors and three Ukrainian Navy ships.
On May 25 of this year, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Russia to immediately release to Ukraine the 24 sailors and the three ships. They did not do so.
However, thanks to the persistent diplomacy of President Zelenskyy and his team, Ukraine and the Russian Federation were able to come to agreement for an exchange of prisoners that allowed the sailors to return to their homeland. That was in September.
To this day, however, the Russian Federation has not returned to Ukraine the three ships that it seized — the Berdiansk, the Nikopol and the Yany Kapu. We call on Russia to immediately release these ships to Ukraine.
Let us remember that the attack was not only against Ukraine and Ukrainian sovereignty but also a blatant attack on the security of the entire international maritime community, on all of us.
The United States remains steadfast in our support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
Secretary Pompeo’s Declaration of July 25, 2018 made a clear and unequivocal statement of U.S. policy: we do not, and will not, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea.
Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine.
Our Minsk-related sanctions remain in place until Russia fully implements the Minsk agreements and withdraws from the Donbas.
There can be no return to business as usual with Russia until these critical issues are resolved.
Security everywhere, to include on the high seas, is a common endeavor. Therefore, security on the Black Sea is the responsibility of all peace-keeping nations.
That’s why I believe it’s so important to have the Black Sea partner navies here today, as well as representatives from other navies coming together to discuss this very important problem so that we can develop lasting, concrete measures that will halt Russian aggression and improve security in the Black Sea.
The Russian Federation constantly seeks to undermine our unity and our security. We will not allow that to happen.
The United States stands with Ukraine and the international community not only with words but with actions.
Our security cooperation programs and our advisers help to build the military capabilities and the interoperability with NATO and with allies, and the presence of our own Navy in the Black Sea proudly sailing, demanding that freedom of navigation in accordance with international norms be upheld in all areas of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
One of the criteria, one of the key criteria, for membership in NATO is shared values. Freedom and democracy are the core of those values.
Those are the values that my country was built on, and those are the values that Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers, Ukrainian sailors are fighting for today.
Let me assure you that the United States will be with you every step of the way.