Keynote Address for the World for Ukraine Summit
Remarks As Delivered
Hello. Thank you, Iryna, for those kind words. And ladies & gentlemen, thank you for allowing me to join you today.
You know in 2014, just a few months after the Revolution of Dignity, I was privileged to serve as an election observer in Ukraine.
It was an experience that I will carry with me forever.
I still recall walking near Independence Square and seeing evidence of Yanukovych’s violent crackdown. His brutal moves against peaceful protesters merely looking for a true voice in their future.
I remember touching the bullet holes in the lampposts where some tried to hide in vain from snipers and soldiers.
I remember the makeshift barricades & bunkers that were still standing in case Kremlin-powered thugs tried to come back.
I saw the volunteers —many of them graying veterans— sitting on sandbags ready to go at a moment’s notice. And I spoke with old women who were working in shifts to provide food for those who were there.
And everywhere I looked, there were flowers and candles placed to show the world that those who had given their lives would never be forgotten.
As we gather today, nearly 10 years later, I’m equally inspired by a new wave of Ukrainian heroes who refuse to surrender their country’s future — or to let tyranny prevail.
You know, not long after the Kremlin's illegal invasion, former Defense Secretary Bob Gates warned the world that we would see an “era-defining conflict.”
And sadly, he's been proven right.
It's a conflict that poses profound questions that we have no choice but to answer.
If we aren’t going to stand with Ukraine — a sovereign nation, a legally recognized member of the UN, the WTO, the OSCE, the IMF and more — why should any power anywhere believe that we’re serious about defending territories, and maritime zones, and airspaces?
Why should they think we’re serious if we aren't willing to act against a brutal invader:
- That’s committed thousands of atrocities and war crimes;
- That steals innocent children to take them back for reprogramming;
- That trains missiles on civilian targets like schools and hospitals;
- That threatens nuclear strikes, and tortures innocent civilians;
- That weaponizes food against those in need, not just in Ukraine, but in so many parts of the world.
If we aren’t going to do everything we can to help, then Putin is right —the West HAS lost its way and democracies HAVE lost their resolve.
But I don’t think he’s right. I know he’s wrong.
He was wrong about Zelensky.
He was wrong about the countless men and women who are fighting back in the face of barbarity.
He was wrong about everyday families who stand tall despite some of the toughest conditions imaginable.
And, yes, he was wrong about Snake Island.
Just as he was wrong about all of those things, I know he's misjudged the resolve of Europe, the US and the free world.
And we’re here today because that same resolve must extend into Ukraine’s brighter future.
Just as Bob Gates predicted an era-defining conflict, I believe that we’ll soon enter an era-defining reconstruction.
We’ll need a reconstruction plan that doesn't repeat the mistakes of the past in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but safeguards taxpayers, and enhances Ukrainian capacities, and serves as a rebuke to everything that Putin stands for.
Ukraine has made clear that its future lies with Europe and that key institutions like the EU are what they believe their future is. After all, it was THAT vision that powered the protests at the Euromaidan in the first place.
The overriding purpose of Ukraine's reconstruction must be to help it realize that future, which means that Europe should take the lead.
Ukraine should reform its institutions to take on challenges like corruption and rule of law, and Ukraine’s friends should ensure that every dollar from every source strengthens Kyiv’s path.
The US, I think, has a unique role to play.
America should help fund defined projects with clear timelines and precise end dates.
But our role should do more: OUR funds should not only address precise problems and needs, but they should also enhance Ukraine's capacity to take on such needs themselves.
And fortunately, I think the US has a great tool for the job.
In short, I believe the US government should turn to its Millennium Challenge Corporation to help lead much of America’s role in Ukraine’s reconstruction.
Launched 20 years ago, with broad bipartisan support, the MCC helps countries that are committed to good governance and market-driven economics to take on significant infrastructure projects.
More importantly, it does so in ways that simultaneously build capacity of partner countries to govern more transparently, more effectively and more justly. All of which Ukraine’s citizens are demanding.
MCC doesn’t provide grants, it offers compacts with clear terms and conditions.
The US provides money, but its compact partners must reciprocate with reforms both in policies and in institutions.
And the experience of those reforms, as precise projects are being carried out, prepares a whole new generation for leadership.
In Ukraine’s case— in ways that might just be worthy of the sacrifices that we’ve seen.
At the heart of MCC’s approach is the MCA —a partner-led institution that oversees projects in a 100% transparent manner, with funds being released only as conditions are met and as actions are verified.
MCC recognizes that it isn’t just building things that counts —physical infrastructure— it’s building self-reliance.
A few years ago, I was in Senegal not long after the completion of one of their compacts and I remember meeting a young lady who said ‘I want to thank America.’ She said to be clear it’s not for the roads—we could build roads, we know how to build roads—what we didn’t know how to do was to do it on budget, transparently, on time without any government interference or corruption. She said you have proven to us that we can do this. That is the beauty of the MCC.
Now Ukraine has long expressed its desire to become an MCC compact country—another sign of their dedication to democracy and to markets.
Putin’s invasion has put a normal compact out of reach for a while, but in light of all that Ukraine has gone through— and all that Ukraine can be—Congress should create special provisions to authorize MCC to work with free Ukraine.
MCC can help the country become a better destination for private investment, and a better partner for the pursuit of trade and open markets.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary of existence—two decades of helping countries to become more prosperous and more free.
Its legacy of success can be found in so many parts of the world.
By bringing its approach to an era-defining reconstruction effort, we can create a more prosperous future for Ukraine and Europe, we can honor the sacrifice that so many Ukrainians have made—and rebuke Putin’s effort to undermine their cause.
A final thought.
A lot of people don’t know but John McCain, the late John McCain, had until his dying day on his iPhone a video clip of him speaking at the Euromaidan protest. He kept that clip not because it was him, he kept it because of the people on that clip. They were a reminder to him that democracy will succeed, that the forces of democracy are strong. It was a reminder that the people of Ukraine, when they battle back against authoritarianism, they aren’t simply fighting for themselves, they’re fighting for us, democracy, and the values that we share.
Thank you. Thanks everyone.