Good afternoon. As many of you know, I was scheduled to be in Hiroshima this weekend with Prime Minister Kishida. Together as allies, we were planning to lay wreaths in remembrance – and recognition – of the horrors of war.
Instead of standing together on sacred ground that memorializes the nuclear legacy of Hiroshima, instead of standing together to build a future of peace and prosperity, the world is staring, once again, at the horror of war.
President Putin has threatened the world when he said Russia, and I quote, “remains one of the most powerful nuclear states” with “a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons.” He went on: “There should be no doubt that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.” This was a clear threat to deploy nuclear weapons in defense of an indefensible act of war.
Over the past 36 hours, the world has watched the unprovoked, unsubstantiated, and unforgivable Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This is the second time a Russian leader has subjected the Ukrainian people to gross abuses: the first was forced starvation under Stalin, and now forced subjugation under Putin.
Let me be clear: Despite what the Kremlin says, there is no justification for this invasion. There was no provocation from Ukraine. No amount of historical misinterpretation or outright disinformation can justify Russian actions.
These are criminal acts that violate international law, Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and basic human dignity.
On two occasions in the past 30 years, the Russian government has made legal commitments through which it swore a peaceful path towards Ukraine.
In the 1994 Budapest Accords, Russia committed to respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine, and to refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.
In exchange for these security guarantees, Ukraine gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons for Russia’s protection and reassurance. Russia’s violation of the Budapest Accords can be described as nothing short of betrayal, exposing President Putin for the duplicitous, deceptive, and disingenuous actor he is.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion also is a direct violation of the Minsk Agreements, signed in 2014 and 2015. These agreements, signed by both Russia and Ukraine, as well as the OSCE, required among their provisions the withdrawal of illegal armed groups, all foreign armed formations, and military equipment from the territory of Ukraine.
President Zelenskyy repeatedly made clear Ukraine’s firm commitment to the agreements and his readiness to contribute constructively to the Minsk process. His pursuit of diplomacy and preservation of the principles that underpin the rules-based order was, instead, met by President Putin’s march to war.
The lesson is clear: President Putin’s commitments to international agreements are worth no more than the paper they are written on. To allow such flagrant disregard and behavior would lead to not only chaos, but also challenge global security and the international system of order.
In the lead up to the invasion and even today, President Putin has offered a litany of pretenses in an attempt to justify military action. In short, his military action is in search of a justification.
He claims Ukraine is a security threat to Russia. After the occupation of Crimea in 2014, and after amassing more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, I ask: Who is the provocateur?
He claims to be defending ethnic Russians in Ukraine, but there are no credible independent reports of any ethnic Russians or Russian speakers being under threat from the Ukrainian government. There are credible reports, however, that native Ukrainians faced suppression of their culture and national identity and live in an environment of severe repression and fear.
He claims NATO has plotted against Russia, but NATO is a defensive – not offensive – alliance whose purpose is to protect its member states. Consistent with this, in the expansion of NATO, there were careful and conscious decisions made upon entry of Poland, Romania, the Baltic States, Slovakia, and Slovenia to have no offensive weapons in their territory.
He claims Ukraine is not a country. This is laughable. Which of your countries doesn’t have an Ambassador in Ukraine? What nation’s ambassador just spoke here at 11:00 and was introduced as Ukraine’s ambassador?
And the claims only get more outlandish in search of a justification. If you are looking for a definition of outlandish, he claims Ukraine is led by Nazis when its president is a Jew.
So what is Putin’s motivation? Why would President Putin order the invasion of Ukraine, a neighboring country with which Russia has an affinity in faith and culture?
President Putin is afraid of the future. Something far more profound and powerful than military force: the success of a system, right on his back door, that ensures and upholds individual sovereignty, individual rights, and individual freedoms.
President Putin is frightened by freedom and the march by people towards freedom – whether that’s in the 21st century from Kyiv, Minsk, Aleppo, or Tbilisi, or in the 20th century in Gdansk, Budapest, Prague, or East Berlin. What they have in common are dictators who have been frightened by the march of freedom.
He is scared of Ukraine’s success, as it is a mirror up to Russia’s failures. And most important, he’s afraid of Ukraine’s success for all to see and witness in contrast to the Russian system. The system President Putin has fought hard to entrench through disinformation and proxies overseas, and by crushing internal dissent at home does not work – and no one is marching to be a part of it.
Look at what the people of Ukraine and Belarus have said about the system of values and principles they want for their future. The people of Ukraine and Belarus, like the people of Hong Kong, are not going to the streets to demand authoritarianism or the exercise of raw power.
Russia’s neighbors are voting with their feet and their aspirations and futures, and the appeal of western ideas, values, and success – economically and politically – is what really frightens President Putin.
The world cannot – and is not – standing for this invasion. All of the G7 countries, including Japan, and the countries of Europe have spoken with one voice, as well as other allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand.
I welcome and deeply appreciate Prime Minister Kishida’s strong and steady leadership to announce sanctions on Russia in defense of liberty, democracy, human dignity, and international law.
Japan’s swift response in collaboration with the United States and other G7 members, the European Union, and Australia to implement financial sanctions against Russian banks, elites, and entities; suspend visa issuances; and restrict the exports of semiconductors and high-tech products will impose unprecedented economic costs on Russia.
Make no mistake, Russia’s acts of war have sparked global condemnation and criticism, both from national leaders around the world, as well as peace-loving citizens who have taken to the streets to March in solidarity with Ukraine and show their respect for national sovereignty and individual freedoms.
In fact, even in Russia, people are taking to the streets to protest Putin’s decisions. According to civil society reports, Putin has arrested more than 2,000 of his own citizens in more than 50 cities for taking part in anti-war demonstrations. that’s what vengeful and fearful strongmen do when they feel weak. It’s a playbook as old as the play.
In today’s world, it’s not easy to cobble together a coalition. It’s hard to identify an absolute right and an absolute wrong.
I read with interest the remarks from Kenyan Ambassador to the UN Martin Kimani to the Security Council. Ambassador Kimani justly called out and criticized Putin’s decision to reject diplomacy and dialogue and, instead, resort to use of force. But beyond criticizing the invasion itself, Kimani made a more profound observation about two types of countries in the world: those who look forward to a brighter future, and those who look backward with dangerous nostalgia.
He told Security Council members: [African countries] agreed we would settle for the borders that we inherited, but we would still pursue continental political, economic, and legal integration. Rather than form nations that looked ever backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known. We chose to follow the rules … not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater, forged in peace.”
And that was not said by an ambassador in a developed country, but an ambassador in a developing country who understands the consequences of decisions in Ukraine because the consequences don’t stop in Ukraine.
This captures exactly the motivations behind Putin’s unprovoked attack: a leader looking back with dangerous nostalgia, while the people and nations around him sought something greater, forged in peace – a future.
When you look at his friends, the countries of Syria, Kazakhstan, and North Korea, they are all failed states that are failing their people.
President Putin has threatened the world with the use of nuclear weapons, which has particular resonance here in Japan, as you have experienced the horror of nuclear weapons. We cannot – and will not – let this aggression stand unanswered.
The United States and Japan stand with Ukraine and its people, with our allies and partners, and with people of the world who look forward. Together, we will push back Russia’s exercise of raw power and abject disregard for the shared values and shared principles that enable peace and prosperity.
In 1962, 60 years ago this year, two world leaders came close to nuclear war. They had the good sense and clear-eyed view of the future, and their responsibility to that future, to pull back and deescalate in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
At every stage in the last three months, world leaders have offered President Putin a chance to step back from the brink of war, but he refused and rejected their offers. He could have borrowed the wisdom of that great generation of leaders – but he did not. Instead of Putin the Great, he became Putin the pariah.