Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks for Marking One Year Since Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks for Marking One Year Since Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, February 24, 2023

Good afternoon.

Rector Qerimi, Dean Puka, Acting Chief State Prosecutor Kelmendi, Representatives of the Kosovo Basic Court, Commercial Court,  distinguished guests and students – and particularly, if we have any of our Ukrainian friends here today, though I think many are at a solemn session of the Assembly right now, thank you for inviting me here today and for taking the time out of your busy Friday afternoon to listen to me talk about what is one of the seminal issues on our agenda right now.

One year and one day ago today, Azad Mamedov was sitting in a lecture hall much like the one we are in right now.  He and his classmates in Kyiv and across Ukraine went to bed that night just like any other night.  While tensions with Russia were running high, most Ukrainian university students at that time were thinking – like many of you I suspect – about courses they were taking, exams for which they were preparing; papers they had to write. They might also have been thinking about get-togethers with friends, parties, concerts, festivals – they would spend their weekends and free time. But one year ago today, they woke up to the sound of explosions.  Their apartment buildings trembled from the impact of bombs, as Russia mounted air strikes and a ground invasion towards Kyiv and Kharkiv. Two short weeks later, Azad Mamedov wasn’t writing a climate action speech.  He wasn’t studying for an economics exam.  He was volunteering at a bomb shelter in his hometown.  He wrote:  Our generation has known the horrors of war.

As was said, today marks one year since Putin launched his brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  This was an attack which – no matter how much advance intelligence we had or warning we gave – it still came as an incredible shock to our world order, to the international systems and structures the United States and our partners painstakingly put in place prevent such unilateral actions, such threats to the peace and security of not just one country, but of all of Europe.  On this solemn day, after exactly one year in which the United States and our NATO and other partners have supported Ukraine in its battle against Russian tyranny with both resolve and purpose, I wanted to come here today to talk to you to say that the United States and our partners will continue to support Ukraine for – as President Biden has repeatedly stated – as long as it takes.

The stakes are high. As President Biden shared this week from Warsaw after his historic visit to Kyiv to reaffirm the United States’ unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity:  he said: “Kyiv stands strong.  It stands proud.  It stands tall, and most important, it stands free.”

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a watershed moment in modern European history – It is a fundamental geopolitical challenge. Probably the largest one thus far of the 21st century.  I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what has happened over the last year – and share how the United States and our partners are working to ensure that Russia fails in its craven and illegal grab for land and power.  I want to share just how we are working to ensure Russia is held accountable for this unjust war that it has waged, the gross violations of human rights and international law – that you referred to, Mr. Rector – it has perpetrated, and the human lives and communities it has destroyed.  And finally, I’ll discuss how President Biden and the United States are leading a global charge to support Ukraine together with our partners as it defends its people and territory.

Let me start by talking about how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally altered the global world order that was established after World War II.  At the end of that terrible conflict, as many of you have studied and are studying and will study, the powers of the world agreed collectively to a set of fundamental principles, values, systems, and institutions, such as the United Nations, such as NATO, that ushered in an unprecedented period of order and prosperity. While this wasn’t a perfect system, and while these principles, values, systems, and institutions have faced significant challenges over the intervening years, and at times clearly showed a lack of complete responsiveness to the challenges they faced, they also provided peace and security for people across the globe. By invading Ukraine, Putin directly challenged these international principles in significant and telling ways.

Russia launched an unprovoked, all-out war to seize territory from a sovereign country, in direct violation of the legal obligations and political commitments Russia has made over the preceding decades.   Including the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia joined other nuclear powers in pledging to respect the signatories’ independence and sovereignty within their existing borders, and to never threaten or use military force or economic coercion against Ukraine- Ukraine specifically. Russia’s invasion has far-reaching geopolitical implications.  The Kremlin’s efforts to deny Ukraine’s existence as a state, seize its territory by force, subjugate its people to the Kremlin’s imperial rule is a threat to every country, not just to Russia’s neighbors. To put it simply, Russia is trying to wipe out the sovereignty of an independent nation.

Russia’s leaders have been fairly transparent about their views and aims for Ukraine.   President Putin wrote – inaccurately I would add – that “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia.” I don’t believe history supports that allegation. Moscow has taken aim not only at Ukraine, but also at the principles of sovereign equality and territorial integrity that were enshrined in the UN Charter in the aftermath the second World War.  No one in Europe, no one in the world, can passively view the threat that Russia’s actions and its corresponding justifications present.

This is not just about Ukraine.  This is not just about Russia. This is about a threat to all of us.

It’s a direct attack on the foundational pillars of the global order, threatening the institutions and arrangements that have ensured our prosperity, stability, and security for well over half a century. And the fact is that while Putin may have been relying on our differences to divide us in the face of this onslaught, but we are united by the values and aspirations that are shared by the people in Europe, the United States, and our partners around the world.

Putin is already facing the consequences of his challenge to the global world order and the democratic values that underpin it.   The United States and our partners are as resolute as we’ve ever been in ensuring that Russia suffers the consequences of its unjustified, illegal, and immoral war on Ukraine.  We are holding Russia accountable.  We are committed that Russia will not derive benefit from this.

Putin thought he would break the West he thought he would roll over Ukraine—”we’ll take Ukraine in three days” – he was wrong.  President Biden’s trip to Kyiv earlier this week is a powerful demonstration of the United States’ commitment to ensuring Ukrainians will continue to count on the entire global community’s support in defense of their country.

As President Biden said during his historic visit, “Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided.  […] He thought he could outlast us.  I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.” Indeed, one year on, our commitment has not waned.

The Ukrainian people have shown their determination and courage to defend their freedom, their sovereignty, and their independence on the battlefield.  The United States and our allies and partners will continue to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend its people and territory against Russia’s aggression.

Russia chose this war – and the world is responding to hold Russia accountable for the consequences of that choice, the atrocities it is committing in Ukraine.

More than 140 countries voted at the United Nations and yesterday 141,  to condemn Russia’s aggression and to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in defense of the core principles of the UN Charter.

Today, we are gathered in a lecture hall at the University of Pristina.

I want to note that Russia’s widespread attack on civilian infrastructure has completely destroyed some 500 educational institutions like this one – and damaged an additional 2,500.

But over the past year, Russia’s aggression has not stopped at civilian infrastructure.

Russian forces have pursued widespread and systemic attacks against Ukraine’s civilian population — gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape, and forced deportation.

Execution-style killings, beatings, and electrocution of innocent civilians.

This is barbaric.  It is inhumane.

As Vice President Kamala Harris noted in Munich last weekend, we have examined the evidence, and we know the legal standards. Many of you do as well.

The United States has determined these are crimes against humanity.

The individuals who have perpetrated these crimes, and those who are complicit, will be held to account.

We will continue to support international investigations as well as a judicial process in Ukraine against Russia’s crimes because justice must be served.

On behalf of all the victims, both known and unknown – justice will be served.

This is a moral imperative, and it’s appropriate to say in the auditorium of the Faculty of Law, it’s also a question of the rule of law.

Just as the Allies at the end of the Second World War advanced justice and ushered in a new era of accountability for the worst imaginable crimes, we are now responsible for ensuring that those who committed war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine are held to account.

The United States is leading this charge, under the leadership of President Biden but also in partnership with countries across Europe and around the globe.

We have been gratified to see the world’s unity both in purpose and in action.

President Biden’s visit to Kyiv on Monday underscored our enduring commitment to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

We remain in lockstep with Ukrainian leaders and our allies and partners in Europe in supporting Ukraine, holding Russia accountable, and deterring Russian aggression against NATO.

Putin expected a quick victory, but he underestimated the resolve and capability of the people of Ukraine to defend their country, their democracy, and their freedom.

He also underestimated the resolve of the United States and our allies and partners to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

The United States has rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and democracy against Russia’s brutal and barbaric war.

Since January 2021, the United States has invested more than $30.4 billion in security assistance to demonstrate our enduring and steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But this is a world-wide effort.

We are leading a coalition of more than 50 countries—from North America to Europe to the Indo-Pacific—that are providing military assistance to help Ukraine.

Since – oneyear  ago today, February 24, 2022, Allies and partners worldwide have committed over $13 billion in security assistance.

We are also providing economic and humanitarian assistance.

As you know, this assistance is vital to supporting displaced populations, including refugees and other vulnerable communities in Ukraine and across the region.

We are making sure the people affected by this war have access to drinking water and shelter, sanitation, emergency healthcare, and emergency food assistance.

And collectively, we have imposed severe, unprecedented sanctions that are making it harder for the Kremlin to wage this brutal war. In this year we have held together the largest sanctions regime ever imposed on a major economy.

We have cut Russia off from critical inputs and advanced technologies.

We are hurting Russia’s ability to fight – and finance – this war.

And the Sanctions and export controls, we expect, will cut even deeper into Russia’s industrial economy in the war’s second year.

Our economic measures are specifically designed to hold Russia accountable but without impeding exports of food or the provision of humanitarian assistance.

And we are working very hard to mitigate the economic pain and uncertainty for vulnerable countries.

Putin thought he could divide NATO, the west, and our partners.  Let me say this as clearly as I can: he has failed.

As President Biden said on Tuesday, Putin “thought NATO would fracture and divide. Instead, NATO is more united and unified than ever before.”

Together, we have provided historic assistance to Ukraine.

Together, we have dealt a blow to Russia’s war-fighting capabilities.

Together, we have pursued energy security and reinvested in our collective defense.  And,

Together, have stood and we continue to stand we stand for our common values, our common interests, our common humanity.

I have no doubt that this unity will endure.

And I want to note the people of Kosovo and the country of Kosovo are an integral part of this unified response, this demonstration of solidarity.

Some might suggest that a country of just 1.8 million people, facing its own challenges in southeast Europe, is unlikely to be in a position to affect the outcome of the war in Ukraine.

But I want to talk for a second about the impact of solidarity.

I come from a town in the Pacific Northwest.

Just as the citizens of my hometown of Bellingham, Washington, population 70 – 80 thousand  worked to collect donations for an ophanage in Ukraine, and ended up with over $20,000 – which we didn’t expect –

Kosovo has done its part to stand together in solidarity against this unprovoked invasion.

You have offered refuge to Ukrainians fleeing the war.

You have provided a home to 12 Ukrainian journalists allowing them to carry on with their work in freedom and security. And to ensure that accurate and true information is available

You’ve stood with us – the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom – on the sanctions regime.

And I’ve watched you. You’ve given what you could – whether it be through clothing drives or fundraising campaigns – to demonstrate where you, Kosovo, stand,

And to demonstrate with whom you, Kosovo, stand. These acts may seem small on their own, but when we put them together across every single town, city, and country that is making these statements of solidarity, they can and do up to something pretty big.

More acutely than many, you, the people of Kosovo, understand what it’s like to experience subjugation by another power.

You know what it is like and you know what it means when others attempt to determine your future.

You know how important these visible manifestations of solidarity are,

Not just to the events on the ground, but to the psyche of those being affected.

And you’ve stood with us resolutely against Russia’s attempt to do so in Ukraine.

I’ll just note on my drive here – Traffic circles, blue and yellow. Banners – blue and yellow. Signs – United with Ukraine.

There is not a doubt in anyone’s mind where people of Kosovo stand on this issue.

So, as we mark together one year from Putin’s invasion, I want to highlight three things for you to consider – and carry forward.

Russia is absolutely threatening global stability and has broken international law;

Russia is paying a price for these actions;

And our collective response, our firm readiness to stand together, is meaningful and is having an effect.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

One generation ago, we – many of us – were working to rebuild after the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Two generations ago, we – our parents – were rebuilding Europe after the horrors of the Second World War.

What will the next generation of students who come into this Auditorium experience when they show up 20 or 30 years from now?

This room, or one like it, over the last generations, has experienced the horrors of war.

I hope your future classmates will show up here and instead be focused on achieving our shared, fundamental vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace.”

This goal of a “whole, free, and at peace” Europe is as vital and relevant today as it was when President George H.W. Bush first articulated it in 1989.

I hope we can talk about generations that know the fruits of peace, and advancing those fruits of peace, rather than  the horrors of war.

As we look to the future, we know that we’re not done in Ukraine. And our Ukrainian friends will continue to be tried and tested.

I have to acknowledge our transatlantic unity and solidarity will continue to be tried and tested still as well.

But I am pretty confident – I think it was both President Obama and President  Biden who have said – “never underestimate the power of the United States and its partners.”

Together, we have risen, we are rising, and I strongly believe we will continue together to rise to this challenge. We are grateful for our friendship, we are grateful for our solidarity, we are grateful to the people of Kosovo for what you are doing to support the People of Ukraine.

It is part of this shared effort, it meaningful.

Thank you very much, and

Slava Ukraini.