Interview: Jason Crow on Ukraine, Russia and the US’ role in the second year of war
As the war between Russia and Ukraine enters its second year, Jason Crow has thoughts: On how U.S. support for Ukraine needs to “evolve.” On what victory in the conflict would look like. On the apparent alliance between Russia and China.
Crow, the Democratic representative for Colorado’s Sixth District, serves on a number of Congressional committees which intersect those areas — Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence.
In an interview with Colorado Matters’ Senior Host Ryan Warner, he also discusses his fears of a post-Putin Russia and finding his place as a member of the minority party for the first time.
Crow on how U.S. support for Ukraine should evolve:
"I learned in war that no day is the same, and you have no ability while the war still rages to take a victory lap. Wars always evolve. They change. The needs change, and that's what we're seeing right now. This war is rapidly evolving and we have to change the nature of our support.
I think we have to do things like provide more advanced fighter jets, to provide more longer-range missiles and rockets that the Ukrainians can use to hit Russian supply lines. I think we have to increase our training of the Ukrainians so that they can have a more professional force to do the type of offensive that they need to do in the spring. I also think we need to increase sanctions. There's a lot of things that need to happen given the way that this is changing and how rapidly it's changing."
On the potential partnership of Russia and China:
"There has been an increased relationship between China and Russia, an economic relationship. China has helped Russia usurp sanctions. We know that they are seriously considering and even taking some steps to start providing lethal aid, essentially weapons and ammunition to Russia to help Russia fight and win this war, but it'd be a huge mistake by China. President Xi is an autocrat. He's a dictator. He also is trying to rewrite the rules of the world. They don't believe in autonomy. They don't believe in freedom. They don't believe in privacy. They don't believe in democracy. Xi and Putin are like-minded in that they would love to see the Democratic free nations of this world fail."
On a post-Putin Russia:
"The other thing you have to consider is that the alternative to Putin, and this might sound like a really crazy thing to think about because Putin is a terrible monster, the alternative to Putin may not be better. There are hardliners in Russia who have been criticizing Putin for being too weak, for not using nuclear weapons already. A lot of these hardliners have a lot of political power and are members of the security services and the military. If those folks take power, it could be more dangerous for everybody."
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Ryan Warner: Congressman, thanks for being with us again.
Rep. Jason Crow: Thanks, Ryan. It's always good to be with you.
Warner: When you consider the realities of this war entering its second year now, what is the U.S.'s greatest interest?
Crow: We have a lot of interests, Ryan. In D.C. circles, you often hear the terms the rules-based international order. In plain speak, what that means is, since the end of World War II we have been a world largely that is based on rules. It's based on the fact that nations have sovereign rights and that a larger, more powerful country just cannot take by force another country. That's really what is being contested by Vladimir Putin right now. He wants to rewrite that, so does President Xi of China, and they're attempting to set that new precedent. That's number one.
Number two, Coloradans and Americans have a vested interest in a stable, secure, and prosperous Europe. It's our largest trading partner combined, all the European nations, and if there's economic instability and if there's war in Europe, that's going to reverberate through our economy, our ability to travel. We have hundreds of thousands of Americans that live throughout Europe, so we have very immediate vested interests in Ukraine and in a stable Europe as well. Then the third would be food supply. Ukraine remains one of the bread baskets of the world, and if it falls into the Russian hands, it's going to cut off food supply to Africa, to the Middle East, and to the United States causing inflationary pressures as well as potentially famine in very vulnerable places of the world as well, so we have a lot of interests at play here.
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Warner: To that first point, you talk about the world order. It is also true that since World War II there has been, tension might be a diplomatic word, between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and China. It's also true that in that time the United States has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. It sounds to me like maybe you just don't like it when it's Russia or China doing it.
Crow: Well, first of all, I reject any type of false equivalency here. There's no doubt that the United States has had foreign policy and national security missteps. We went to Afghanistan, by the way, after we were attacked brutally on September 11 in 2001, and we went to find those attackers, which by the way, we did. That war lasted too long. In my opinion. It should have ended a long time ago. There were a lot of missteps that were actually looking to address through the Afghanistan War Commission that's underway now that I helped support and create. Iraq was an intelligence failure. There's no doubt about that. We went in for weapons of mass destruction. That was a sanctioned military action, but it was based on faulty intelligence. Both of those situations in no way compare to what Vladimir Putin is doing right now without provocation, without any pretense, just the outright brutal invasion of a peaceful neighbor because in his mind, they don't have the right to exist.
Vladimir Putin believes in the old Russian Empire, and he has a map in his mind that doesn't match the current map of the world, and that includes eastern European countries, including Ukraine. He is attempting to take by force and to rebuild his vision of a Russian Empire regardless of how many lives it takes.
Warner: It seems that China is embracing that vision. How concerned are you about what we've seen from China lately?
Crow: I'm very concerned about that. There has been an increased relationship between China and Russia, an economic relationship. China has helped Russia usurp sanctions. We know that they are seriously considering and even taking some steps to start providing lethal aid, essentially weapons and ammunition to Russia to help Russia fight and win this war. But it'd be a huge mistake by China. President Xi is an autocrat. He's a dictator. He also is trying to rewrite the rules of the world. They don't believe in autonomy. They don't believe in freedom. They don't believe in privacy. They don't believe in democracy. Xi and Putin are like-minded in that they would love to see the Democratic free nations of this world fail. He has an interest in having Putin win this war because he feels like it degrades the capability of the West to resist what he wants to do in Asia, most notably Taiwan.
Ryan: I mean that reeks of a proxy war and it feels Cold War-ish to me. What do you think, congressman?
Crow: Well, we're not in a Cold War. We're in a very different world. It involves a lot more countries at play. This is not two great powers playing things out. There's a lot of powerful nations now. The European block is powerful. India is asserting themselves. The so-called global south, South America and Africa, have a lot of power and influence, and they have options now, and they have growing economies. China has 10 times the GDP that the former Soviet Union ever had at the height of the Cold War. So this is a very different scenario, and I reject this language around a Cold War because I just don't think it captures the complexity and the magnitude of the challenge that we now face.
Warner: Last Friday, you issued a statement on the one-year anniversary of the war saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had underestimated the great and determination of the Ukrainian people and the resolve of democracies across the globe. There was also something of a plug for the Biden-Harris administration and its support of Ukraine. Is there more you'd like from the White House or something different you'd like from the White House?
Crow: Yeah, there is Ryan. First and foremost, this administration and President Biden have done a remarkable job, truly, of building and leading an international coalition to help Ukraine fight and win. Without the support of the president and the Congress and funding, Ukraine would not be in the position they're in right now. The Ukrainians are tremendous fighters. They're fierce, they're resilient, they're gritty, but without the weapons and equipment and financial support that the European countries and the United States have provided, led by the United States, they would not be in this position. They've done a good job, but I learned in war that no day is the same, and you have no ability while the war still rages to take a victory lap. Wars always evolve. They change. The needs change, and that's what we're seeing right now. This war is rapidly evolving and we have to change the nature of our support.
I think we have to do things like provide more advanced fighter jets, to provide more longer-range of missiles and rockets that the Ukrainians can use to hit Russian supply lines. I think we have to increase our training of the Ukrainians so that they can have a more professional force to do the type of offensive that they need to do in the spring. I also think we need to increase sanctions. So there's a lot of things that need to happen given the way that this is changing and how rapidly it's changing.
Warner: There's an argument being made that US assistance to Ukraine may be weakening our own military and the support we give to other nations. There was a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimating it'll take five years to replenish the supply of javelin missiles provided to Ukraine, for instance. As a member of the subcommittee on war fighters support, what's your reaction?
Crow: Yeah, there's no doubt that our supplies and inventories have been heavily tapped for this and that our manufacturing and supply chain capability is being stressed. We're making moves to address that. This notion that we have to just hoard and hold on to all of these things for some future conflict, the fight is now. I mean, the war is now. There is no future conflict. The conflict that we need to help Ukraine fight and win is this one. Imagine a world if Vladimir Putin succeeds and Ukraine falls. That means that additional countries will fall because he'll feel emboldened and he'll go after Latvia or he'll go after Lithuania. He'll go after Estonia. He'll continue to go after Belarus. He'll go after Poland. He won't stop because this is who he is and this is what his goal and his grand vision is. This will continue.
But then autocrats and dictators around the world from Iran to Bashar al-Assad and Syria, to China, they will all see that the West couldn't do this. They will feel like they have a blank check to do the same to their weaker neighbors. Taiwan will eventually fall if we're not able to help Ukraine win. This is not a world that anybody wants to live in. This is not a world that we don't want to raise our kids in because it would be a volatile, dangerous, unstable and less prosperous world.
Warner: You're now in the minority in the U.S. House. Is this a view that is shared across the aisle? Where is the tension now with Republicans in control? What does it mean that you have less power than you did before?
Crow: Well, this is my first time in the minority, Ryan, so I'm still grappling with that and figuring out what that looks like. I remain on some of those bipartisan committees in Congress, the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Intelligence Committee. That's where I've done all my work the last two terms. Those committees are incredibly bipartisan. A lot of the work is done on a consensus basis.
I will say there is huge support for Ukraine in the United States Congress. Let me just put some perspective on this. There are 435 members of the house and there's maybe two dozen, maybe two and a half dozen people who are vocally against providing support to Ukraine. That means there are over 400 who are in support of it. That is a vast majority. I just took a trip to Europe. I'm part of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which is NATO's Congress. That trip I took largely with Republican colleagues, and they're firmly behind the effort to help Ukraine fight and win.
Warner: Where is the tension if it exists right now between Democrats and Republicans on this issue?
Crow: Well, a lot of the Republicans are actually the ones that are pushing to do more, that want to see increased support and want to see a change in the nature of support, longer-range rockets, more advanced fighters. That push is coming in a bipartisan way, and I've joined with a lot of them on that push. I think some of the tension will be just on the nature of oversight. We all take the oversight of the money that we've allocated to the Ukraine effort very seriously. I take it seriously. In fact, I authored and led a provision in the DOD budget to compel an enhanced inspector general oversight over the aid that's provided in Ukraine. Where I differ a little bit is some folks that might deal with disinformation or misinformation and say that there's been diversion or there's been abuse. There are no known instances of diversion of U.S. weapons by the Ukrainians, period.
Warner: Is there a limit in your mind as to how much the U.S. should commit and for how long? I mean, just given so many of its own domestic economic issues, and I know you see this country's economic future as intertwined with Ukraine's, but is there a limit?
Crow: Yeah, because we are intertwined economically and democratically, I think that's the wrong way to look at it, to put a dollar limit on it. That's what Vladimir Putin would love to see. He's playing a long game here. In his view, he wants to draw this out for as long as possible. Let me use this example: If you get in the head of Vladimir Putin, I've talked to a lot of our former diplomats about this, our intelligence officials, Vladimir Putin believes in this notion of perpetual struggle. He talks about this notion of struggle, and that's the word he uses, struggle, against the west. This is the status quo that he's interested in maintaining forever, because as long as there's struggle, he can maintain his own power and he can build this revisionist Russian Empire that he wants to build.
We obviously don't want perpetual struggle. We want this to end, which is why we need to frontload our support to Ukraine and essentially make them a porcupine that cannot be swallowed and to ensure their sovereignty and their independence. We're playing off of different timelines right now, and that's why we need to be very aggressive in providing support as quickly as possible and as much as possible.
Warner: A porcupine that cannot be swallowed. What is the end game then? What does victory look like? Is it a Russian withdrawal? That seems, I don't know if unlikely is the word, a pipe dream? I mean, if this is a man who's interested in perpetual struggle, isn't that necessarily what he's going to get if he always resists?
Crow: Yeah, about a week ago, Ryan, I actually tweeted out a roadmap for what I think this ultimately would look like. The first step is that the Russian military needs to be degraded so that it can't conduct offensive operations outside of its borders anymore. The Ukrainians have been remarkably effective at doing that. Vladimir Putin actually does not have the same army that he had a year ago. He's lost about 60% of his combat power and his military forces. Over half of his military is gone. He's trying to rebuild that. Step one is continuing to support the Ukrainians in degrading the Russian military.
Step two is preventing Russia from recapitalizing and rebuilding its military, and that's largely a function of sanctions. Putting sanctions on the Russians so they don't have the technology, they don't have the raw materials, the supply chain to rebuild that industrial base and that equipment that's been lost.
Step three is helping modernize the Ukrainian military. This is the porcupine analogy. We want to modernize them, equip them with more advanced weapons, and train them to be a modern advanced force that can conduct what's called combined arms fire and maneuver warfare, which is something the Russians don't know how to handle and can't fight against. We need to continue to build the capacity of the Ukrainian military, which again is like building an airplane in flight because they're fighting a war and they're also modernizing at the same time.
The fourth step, and this is really important, after Ukrainians can push the Russians out of Ukrainian territory to some extent, then there has to be a security guarantee, a security umbrella, and that might be some combination of the United States, Germany, France, the UK, maybe the European Union, banding together to come to an agreement that we won't allow Ukraine to be invaded again. If we will, we'll step in to help them like we have in the past.
Warner: Gosh, that fourth item is not small. I mean, Ukraine is not a NATO member, but it sounds like you would defend it almost as one, which is an attack against one is an attack against all. Is that a no-fly zone? Is that the start of a global war? Of course, the presence of nuclear weapons plays big into number four.
Crow: Right now it's not a no-fly zone. The Ukrainians have applied for EU membership, membership in the European Union. They want to apply. They stated their intent to apply for NATO membership, and NATO has an open door policy that says any free and democratic nation can apply. They want what's called a membership accessions plan, a map from NATO that tells them the steps that they need to comply with in order to become a member. In both cases of both EU and NATO, now remember, NATO is a defensive military alliance and the EU is a political, economic, and military alliance. It's three parts to the EU, so it's a little bit more complicated than NATO. In both instances, you cannot become a member of either of those alliances if you're at war, so Ukraine is precluded from membership right now. That's why we need to end the war and end hostilities and then outline for them what they need to do to comply with the requirements for membership so they can ultimately become a member, which I support.
But until that happens, there needs to be some kind of security guarantee. Your last point on nuclear weapons, it is true that we have to be very mindful and very careful about that. We've seen no moves in the strategic posture of the Russian nuclear arsenal, but we're keeping a close eye on it.
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Warner: I think it was in May that you were in Ukraine. I think you were there with then-Speaker Pelosi. Do you have plans to go back? I suppose you might not be able to share that from a security standpoint, but if you want to answer that, you're welcome to, and if not, what stands out from your time there?
Crow: Yeah, I will go back at some point. I'm not going to say when for obvious reasons. I've developed a lot of close friendships with the Ukrainian leadership with both military and political, and they invite me back frequently, which of course is a very complicated trip logistically. Yeah, I do intend to go back to show my support at some point in the future here.
Warner: Who do you think of when you read news of Ukraine?
Crow: I think about some of the parliamentarians that I've gotten to know, some of the members of the Ukrainian Rada, my colleagues, so to speak, in their Congress, many of whom have gone to the front lines to fight, or their loved ones have gone to the front lines to fight. Many of whom have young children that have been born in the past year or two that have known nothing but conflict and war. I think about my friend, the commander of the Ukrainian special forces, who I met with and spent time with in December actually of 2020 before the war started, when I led a congressional delegation of intelligence committee members to try to convince the Ukrainians that the invasion was about to happen, and how he's been on the front lines fighting day and night for a year.
Now, let's not forget these people are fighting for their families, for their neighborhoods. They're fighting against a military that is committing really unspeakable war crimes, doing terrible crimes against humanity, rape of young children to kidnapping thousands of orphans and sending them into filtration and transition camps in Eastern Russia to just executing thousands of Ukrainians who got caught up in the fighting.
Warner: The rape of children. Is that systematic?
Crow: It is. These aren't one-off cases. The Russian military is systematically and by design engaging in terror and trying to break the will of the Ukrainian people. Vladimir Putin is literally trying to freeze and starve and cut off the water to the Ukrainians to break their will, but it just shows that Vladimir Putin doesn't know Ukrainians.
Warner: Do you think that Putin understands Russians? You went through that four-step plan earlier. I didn't hear a step that was about eroding or helping further erode Russian confidence in Vladimir Putin. Is there work to do there?
Crow: Well, the answer is yes, but it's extremely complicated, as you might guess. First of all, Vladimir Putin has completed his takeover of media in the messaging machine and the propaganda machine within Russia. Russians have very little access to reliable information about what's actually happening. He has been able to put down dissent in opposition through murder, through imprisonment, through brutality. There's been a brain drain since the war started. About a million Russians have left, and unfortunately, these are folks who actually would form the core of a potential opposition movement, so the situation has gotten worse. The other thing that people need to consider is if Putin views this as existential to his power, he could do something very, very dangerous like use nuclear weapons for example. When Russian leaders historically lose power, they usually end up dead. If he views this as a matter of personal survival, he could get very desperate.
Then the other thing you have to consider is that the alternative to Putin, and this might sound like a really crazy thing to think about because Putin is a terrible monster, the alternative to Putin may not be better. There are hardliners in Russia who have been criticizing Putin for being too weak, for not using nuclear weapons already. A lot of these hardliners have a lot of political power and are members of the security services and the military. If those folks take power, it could be more dangerous for everybody.
Warner: The notion of Putin not being hard-line enough that's fascinating. Congressman, thank you so much for your time.
Crow: Thanks, Ryan. Good talking with you.
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