DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Buona Sera. What a wonderful day and a wonderful way to end my first day in Rome — with young people who will shape Italy’s future and the future of the U.S.-Italy relationship, and shape the world.
Thank you, Marta, for that lovely introduction. Allow me to thank all the members of our youth council, as well as the Rector, Professor Marchetti and our hosts at LUISS University. It is truly an honor to be here with you all.
As Marta just mentioned, before becoming Deputy Secretary of State, I was a professoressa at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Boston, in Cambridge actually. I loved every minute of it, and anytime I visit a college campus anywhere in the world, I immediately fall back a little bit into teacher mode.
Not to worry, I’m not assigning homework. I simply ask you to start thinking of some questions now or comments that you want to make. I want to hear what you have to say and get a sense of how you see our countries’ critical partnership.
We are firmly focused on your future. But no one, no one can visit Rome without thinking of this city’s and the world’s storied past. There’s history literally around every corner. Iconic monuments like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the ruins of the Roman Forum.
There are tributes to Italy’s more recent leadership like the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.
There’s the legendary cuisine exported worldwide along with tributes to Italy’s leadership in science, technology, and innovation.
Whether you are a student here at LUISS or elsewhere in the city, you get to explore what this all means. How Rome’s and Italy’s history relates to your present. How we might connect the long and winding road from ancient times to your courses in politics, finance, management, law, language, and more.
Amidst those studies, you’ll probably discover something else about history — how swiftly it can change course. How major events and geopolitical shifts can alter the way we see ourselves and our leaders. How we can rarely take comfort in knowing what was, because we must stay prepared for what might be.
LUISS is an institution that appreciates this to its core. This is a university built to cultivate creative minds. That’s all of you. Entrepreneurs, policymakers, IT professionals and more. This is home to the Italian Digital Media Observatory, a key hub for Europe’s efforts to combat and counter disinformation, one of the most pressing issues of our time.
This is a place where you understand clearly that history has brought us to another inflection point as Russia’s aggression destroys Ukrainian lives; assaults Ukraine’s security; threatens Europe’s and the world’s stability; yet sees our nations answering this moment in history with strength, with determination, with an unwavering commitment to our common ideals — the defense of democracy, sovereignty, freedom, and diplomacy.
That must not change, and I believe it will not change. This chapter of history is simply too important.
Let’s be clear. Since Vladimir Putin made the decision to launch a premeditated, unprovoked invasion, Russia has failed to achieve its original objectives. Russian troops failed to take Kyiv. They have faltered in the east and south. Far from fracturing the NATO alliance, Putin has achieved the complete opposite –- NATO is more unified than ever.
This is, first and foremost, a tribute to the stunning bravery and extraordinary sacrifice of the Ukrainian people. History will long mark the courage they have demonstrated in defense of the country they cherish.
Together, the United States, Italy, our European Union partners, and partners all over the world like the UK, Japan, Australia, and more, are not allowing Russia’s aggression to stand unanswered. To the contrary, we are doing what we can, collectively, to enable Ukraine to defend itself and defy expectations.
But now, what Putin has not been able to win on a battlefield, he is trying to secure by freezing people in their homes and terrorizing them from the sky. So an urgent question presents itself: as Ukraine and Europe stare into a long, dark, frigid winter, will our unified front hold?
I think the answer is a resounding yes. Not only for those of us in the United States and Italy and Europe, but for all of those who support international law.
How we meet this charge is the hard part. We have done so all year and we must continue to do so if we want to hand the reins of a free, secure, prosperous, and democratic planet over to you and your generation.
In my view, the backbone of our shared approach comes down to three pillars.
First, security. For Ukraine, but also for this continent and the world. We have to keep helping Ukraine protect its citizens against direct threats to their sovereignty.
I know many face hardships due to Putin’s barbarism, none more so of course than the people of Ukraine. The soldiers risking their lives to defend their cities; the millions forced to leave their homes; the children separated from their families, losing a parent, unsure what might happen to their loved ones on the front lines.
There are the mothers in Russia who have to welcome sons home in body bags — all of them sent off to fight and die in a totally unnecessary war.
No one can fathom the devastating impacts of this war felt and faced by those at its center. The secondary effects endured here in Italy, across Europe, and beyond are not matters of life and death in the same vein. But they are issues touching our daily lives and livelihoods with energy prices rising, food prices increasing, the cost of living climbing. These changes put pressure on our pocketbooks and on our societies, and as a result there are voices here and elsewhere who wish this conflict would come to a swift close, right now.
Of course we want the violence to end. We all do But make no mistake. The fastest route to peace is for the person who started this unprovoked war to end it. Simply put, Russia must remove all troops from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Period.
Standing together, we will not give up on Ukraine’s security, freedom, and independence. Far from it. The United States and Italy are providing military equipment, implementing targeted sanctions against Russian officials, freezing assets of Russian oligarchs, contributing to NATO’s deterrence measures, and seeking ways to reduce European dependence on Russia’s energy supplies.
Thanks in part to our actions, Ukrainian forces continue to defy the odds in this war. But the security risks are not limited to conflicts on the battlefield. Russia’s losses have led them to turn their missiles toward Ukrainian infrastructure, leaving millions without light or heat just as temperatures have plunged.
Putin is, in effect, trying to weaponize winter in Ukraine and use energy resources as a cudgel across this continent. But officials throughout Europe, including Prime Minister Meloni, are courageously holding firm in this trying time. We, in the United States, will continue to stand with you to meet the unprecedented challenges ahead.
Russia’s inhumane actions also jumpstarted a mass movement of people out of Ukraine and out of the line of fire. On this front, Italy has stepped up again, hosting nearly 175,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing them with shelter, safety, and care. That is what compassionate, responsible nations must do.
This whole experience has reinforced the importance of our alliances and partnerships -– of NATO, of the European Union, of the G7 –- all of them a significant reason for Russia’s failures.
That speaks to our second pillar: unity. We live in an interconnected world, so all of us must keep working hand-in-hand to protect our safety.
The United States and Italy have a firm foundation for our unity in the form of our bilateral relationship, our respect for human rights, our steps to combat climate change, and our focus on forging a sustainable economic future. Our strong defense alliance fortifies stability worldwide, and our ties of trade and investment promote growth in both our nations.
Our two-way partnership is also a cornerstone of the broader transatlantic alliance that is defending Europe against Russia’s aggression. One that has stood tall for the rule of law and global norms for generations.
In the case of Italy and the United States, our bonds of leadership extend to our role as members of the G7. Just seven nations. Italy and the United States are two of those seven. Where we are helping shape a fair economy that benefits each of us.
Part of what unites us is the final pillar: principle.
No one has the right to change another country’s borders by force or dictate that nation’s future or set the terms of its policies. Yet that’s precisely what Putin is trying to achieve.
The Ukrainian people have a very different view. So do we.
Protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, defending human rights, promoting democratic governance, opening up civic space, countering corruption –- these values, these principles are shared by the U.S., Italy, and so many friends across Europe and beyond.
These ideals are under direct assault in Ukraine right now by Russian propaganda, Russian cyberattacks, Russia’s targeting of the power grid, and Russia’s barbaric assault on innocent civilians.
As democracies, our countries must remain steadfast in withstanding this onslaught and helping Ukrainians defend their values and our values, our own values.
What we’ve done is succeeding, and we have to stay the course with all our strength and all our unity, with our principles as our guide.
That is what history demands of us. Because we know that Russia’s horrific acts, left unchecked, leave the door open for others to think they can follow suit, they can do the same. History teaches us something else as well -– that what happens next isn’t pre-ordained. It is determined and defined by the willingness of every generation to seize the moment before them.
Today, history presents itself again for us to shape as leaders or accept as bystanders. The decision rests in your hands as much as ours. The world is listening closely to what Italy, its leaders and its youth have to say.
The stories of this era, the ones future students will read and study and learn from, will soon fall to you. The lessons of how we stood fast against Russia, how we stood firm for Ukraine, how we stood strong and together for the cause of democracy. These will be taught in your classrooms long after you graduate.
So let’s make sure the result is a better, safer, more prosperous future for you, for Ukraine, for everyone.