As the war in Ukraine shifts away from the capital, Kyiv, and toward the country's south and east, the U.S. should provide weapons better suited for the coming battle, Colorado Democrat Jason Crow told reporters Wednesday.
Crow recently traveled to Kyiv with Speaker Nancy Pelosi as part of a congressional delegation that included House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y.
Crow, a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said he spent 30 to 40 minutes over dinner discussing Ukrainian battlefield needs in detail with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“The battle is changing,” said Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, moving from urban settings and wooded areas where guerilla tactics and short-range weapons are highly effective, to a flatter, open landscape where the sides will exchange artillery barrages at greater distances.
Zelenskyy stressed three particular types of weapons that Ukrainian forces need, Crow said.
First, they need more sophisticated drones that are reusable, Crow said. The U.S. has provided kamikaze drones (like the Switchblade and new Phoenix Ghost) capable of striking targets on one-way missions that have hurt the Russian invaders, but Ukraine also needs drones with precision weapons and advanced targeting systems that can fly multiple missions, he said.
Second, Zelenskyy asked for increased shipments of U.S. artillery. The Pentagon has already announced the shipment of 90 155mm Howitzers, the majority of which are already in Ukraine, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition.
“What we need to do is to provide multiple launch rocket systems,” Crow said, specifically mentioning the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (known as HIMARS), which can fire multiple rockets from the back of a large truck.
“It would really have a devastating impact on the Russian military and provide the Ukrainians a new tool to defend themselves and re-seize their territory that was taken,” he said.
Third, Ukraine needs Harpoon anti-ship missiles to help remove the ships that are keeping Ukrainian ports closed, he said.
Ukraine, a major exporter of wheat, corn, sunflower oil and other agricultural products, is sitting on 12 million tons of agricultural supplies it can’t ship out, Crow said. And in July and August, another harvest will only add to the stores awaiting export.
Almost all of Ukraine’s exports pass through ports, particularly Odessa, where Ukrainians have mined the port to prevent a Russian amphibious landing. Armed with Harpoons, the Ukrainians could remove the mines and reopen the port.
“We could negotiate, set up a humanitarian shipment corridor, start getting food and agricultural shipments out of Ukraine, which would help alleviate hunger in Africa, the Middle East and so many places around the world,” Crow said.
This is one example of how military aid, humanitarian relief and sanctions are intertwined, Crow said.
Last month, the United Kingdom announced that it was sending Harpoon missiles to Ukraine. Kyiv claimed it had used Ukrainian-made Neptune cruise missiles to strike the Moskva, Russia's flagship in the Black Sea, which later sunk. Russia blamed a fire on board for the cruiser's demise, but it also pulled the rest of its warships further away from the coast, according to a senior defense official.
The long haul
Crow said it was clear that Ukraine has to win the war on the battlefield, since Russian President Vladimir Putin is not going to withdraw voluntarily.
“The message that we made very clear to Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians was: The United States is going to stand shoulder to shoulder with you,” Crow said. “We are in this for the long haul to make sure you can be victorious on the field of battle and end this terrible crime.”
Zelenskyy did not ask for things that President Joe Biden has ruled out, such as a no-fly zone or U.S. troops to join the fight, he said.
But short of those two things, “we can do just about everything else,” said Crow, including continuing to provide strategic and tactical intelligence, training on new weapon systems.
“I continue to believe that that should include fighter jets, advanced drones, long-range multiple rocket launch systems, missiles and a broad array of conventional munitions and weapons,” he said.
Crow called the Biden administration’s request for $33 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine a “historic investment, if we can get it passed.” It shows a long-term U.S. commitment to Ukrainian victory, he said.
Crow noted that Zelenskyy has no incentive to ask for things that won’t be useful in the fight against Russian forces.
“This is a wartime leader who is fighting for his own survival and the survival of his country,” he said. “He had a mastery of tactics, of strategy, of the military battlefield as it exists, of weapon systems and what could be used.”
Crow likened Kyiv, which he had previously visited in December 2021, to the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Doors and windows are boarded up and sandbagged, and there are security checkpoints at every intersection, he said. Ukraine has cut down all the trees next to the roads and used them to fortify and control entryways to the city.
While the U.S. is not directly involved in combat, it has a substantial national security interest in seeing Russia defeated, he said.
Putin is trying to establish a new precedent, Crow said, that “if you are a nuclear-armed power, you can take by force your smaller, weaker neighbors, and nobody can stop you. That is not a precedent that I am willing to let be established, nor should we as a nation. So we have incredible and deep interests in helping Ukraine fight back.”