Nebraska State Senator Tom Brewer
Ukraine’s Army could become best trained and well equipped in Europe
video 14.05.2024 09:40

Nebraska State Senator Tom Brewer, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, is on a visit to Ukraine – again – trying to use his knowledge, connections in the Capitol, and contacts across Ukraine to convey to American legislators the truth about the war in Ukraine, the real the needs of Ukraine’s Defense Forces, and encourage decision makers to do the right thing for the benefit of the people who are fighting against Russian aggression. Ukrinform invited the State Senator to tell us more about his work, share his thoughts on the current stage of the war, its lessons to be learned by the American military, who have not faced such a powerful adversary since World War II, the situation of bipartisan support for Ukraine in the United States in a turbulent election year, and Russian propaganda that tries to hamper international assistance to Ukraine.


- This is not the first time you're here in Ukraine. What's the story of you becoming engaged in helping the country?

- I was here in 2010. We were moving helicopters from Cuba to Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of a purchase we made. We didn't have enough American helicopters there and we purchased M-17s and used those for transporting helicopters, mostly doing support missions for the Afghans. And part of the time that we spent here, I was amazed at the town and the people. So when the war started, I made arrangements to come. In May 2022 was my first trip here and now this is my fourth one since the war started, trying to find ways of helping Ukraine.

- Have you been here in the capacity of the Nebraska State Senator since the big war started?

- I am a State Senator, but most of what I do is more general, humanitarian type help. Some of it is gathering information to share with U.S Senators and Congressmen about Ukraine’s needs, to show whether what they are giving is useful and Ukraine needs more of or is of no value at all. We need to make sure that we are not wasteful in how we manage the resources we give Ukraine. So I have functioned as a pipeline to share information back because, obviously, anybody who is a Senator or Congressman, they may make the trip to Kyiv for a photo-op, but nobody comes here to go beyond the capital because it's just not something many feel comfortable with, I guess. Being an old soldier, having eight combat tours, for me, it's not a big deal, it's just something you do, so I try and be that forward person who can make notes and help them make the right decisions.

- As a politician, where there any initiatives that you promoted to help Ukrainians who moved to the U.S. fleeing the war?

- Yes, one of the things that we found out relatively early after the first trip, and it was on the news, is that we had Ukrainian truck drivers who would able to drive in Europe, couldn’t do so in Nebraska. Neither could they drop their kids off at school because of a rule that is written into the laws there. And the rule was more intended to prevent illegal immigration from south of the border, people coming and not having any driving skills, causing all the problems that come with that. So I wrote a law that would allow Ukrainians who hold a license valid in Ukraine, to be able to have licenses in the U.S. And that would include regular cars and big trucks. That law passed 49 to zero, absolute majority.

So every single person voted for it, the Governor signed it right away, and it went into effect. It might sound like a small thing, but if you can't drop your kids off at school or you can't earn a living even though you have the skills to drive a big truck, it’s an issue. We have many trucking companies in Nebraska. So it was a shame to not have a way to help Ukrainians be successful.

- Does that imply that other States may follow suit? Are those who received those licenses in Nebraska allowed to drive all across the U.S.?

- They're able to drive anywhere that a normal CDL, or truck driving license, would allow them to travel. Now we are trying to work with other States to take an example of our law and do the same thing. We just happen to have a lot of Ukrainians in Nebraska so it was an immediate need wherein, in some of the other states, the numbers aren't as large. So there's not as much of a outcry for it.


- How do average Americans see the ongoing war in Ukraine, the biggest one since World War 2?

- The war was reported on in detail in its early days, and 100 percent of everyone I talked to supported Ukraine, it seemed like it was an easy decision because they were a country that did nothing wrong, they were invaded by Russia – in the eyes of the world that I lived in. There was no justification for what they did. And then the brutality of things people saw early in the war even caused them to polarize more toward Ukraine.

Unfortunately, what happened over time is what you might call war fatigue, or that the war in Israel and the Gaza Strip pulled all the attention away and your war was sort of forgotten. And then that combined with a political battle that was going on on the southern border.

And again, why Ukraine became a pawn that was being played in this big chess game. It was never right or fair but it was happening. So they held back resources for Ukraine because they wanted to enforce the southern border. Now, along with that, was the money to help Taiwan and Israel. Eventually, there was so much pressure on Congress that they finally had to do the right thing.

Now, our challenge is that in the United States Congress, you have a small slice that I’d say are on the ultra-right side of things. That are questioning giving aid to anyone in the world as they think all of it should stay home. A kind of a cookie look at the reality of the world because you can't isolate yourself. We see what happened in World War 2 there, and that just is a very, very bad decision.

And then you have those in the middle that see the benefit and they're the ones that voted for and ultimately got the aid package through. And then you have the other kind of people that may be upset about Israel, and they take out their anger on the government and everything the government does. So if the government is helping Ukraine, they see that as bad.

I guess the good news is the extremes on each end are relatively small. The center is the part that gets most legislation done. And that's the part that that was willing to provide aid to Ukraine.

I think that the next challenge is to figure out what the next package should look like and to stress how the money is being used because it’s a lot of money. But if you are able to tell the story of what's happened and what the consequences are if you don't help Ukraine, I think people will step back and agree that this is the right thing to do.

The sad part is that right now, there are very few Americans coming here. Very few understand the culture, the people, the history, all of the things that must come into an understanding of why we need to help, to make sure that Russia does not prevail because this would affect the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.

If you're simply logical about things, giving the resources to Ukraine to win the war is such a better way of managing things than letting things become so terrible that Ukraine is lost and then at some point, NATO has to act and we have a war that involves all the countries that could have changed things, that could have ended the war should they just got involved and done the right thing once the opportunity presented itself.


- Do you think this this kind of message gets through?

- It does, but unfortunately, it's in pockets where there's folks that are understanding of the situation and and champion Ukraine in their cause but that's not everywhere. Sometimes, when you have the crazy voices that are the ones on the microphone and people who don't do a lot of thinking, then they're able to influence in a negative way the things that they shouldn't be able to influence.

Of course, everyone is a little bit nervous about what's coming with the election in November because, no matter how it turns out, there will be a difficult period where you have to figure out what is right? How do we sustain the support to Ukraine and Israel? Because Israel, right now, is more controversial than Ukraine by far, and there are also events happening in the Pacific, with China and Taiwan… It is like a pressure cooker that's potentially able to blow at any point. If certain things happen, one mistake by one pilot, one mistake by someone who controls a weapon system, this could very well influence the future of Europe and the future of the world.


- Speaking of public opinion, Russia has been trying to undermine international assistance to Ukraine, including the U.S. assistance, by launching waves of psyops in the media space to sow confusion and distrust. Among the latest campaigns we observe is the hoax claim that the U.S is allegedly in secret talks with some of Ukraine's current and foreign political figures behind Volodymyr Zelensky’s back. What do you think is the ultimate goal of such a spin? Why would they do that?

Of course, they’re doing everything possible to derail support for Ukraine, but to also to plant the seeds into the future, so that others will see the world the same as they do. And that's a little bit scary because that crazy piece on each end, the far right and the far left, are easily influenced and sometimes they don't think – they just respond. They'll see things on Facebook and they'll take that as the truth. Absolute truth. And sometimes, when I confront him, I say: “Show me the proof. How is this true? What you're telling me?” And they say: “This is what I read on Facebook.”

So you want to slap them and say, listen, at some point, you must engage your brain. You can't just read what's on Facebook and have that become the gospel – because it's not. It's Russian propaganda. It's well orchestrated.

You know, for all of Russia's faults, they do have the ability to lie and to influence people to believe their lies. And that is an effective way of doing things when it comes to poisoning ideas and support. So that's something we have to watch out for.

What I do is I go directly to Senators and Congressmen, I prepare reports, I bring Ukrainian officers to meet with them and to talk through the battlefield situation because much of what we need to talk about is classified. We can't share that with the public. So it happens in their offices where I sit down with them in a controlled environment and explain to them the ground truth. That’s the effective way of doing it.

I don't know that the cost of having some type of a message campaign – that might be difficult. But if you go via direct to the Senators of Congressmen who make decisions, if they talk internally and they will understand what right should be on these issues.

And that's really the only way you can do it because the propaganda machine is going to be strong, especially coming into the election. I don't know who benefits Putin more in Washington.

It might be confusing because you hear both sides say things that worry you. But you also know that sometimes that's a strategic thing, they're saying things to have someone write a story or to try and maneuver for a position on something else. So you hope that common sense and logic will carry the day.

I know a lot of people are worried about Donald Trump. The only thing I'll say about Trump is that, when others would not give lethal aid to Ukraine, he did. But I also worry that he is of a mindset that him and Putin are somehow a little bit buddies. And that I find scary. But he may just be giving an image. He's a hard guy to understand because he talks a lot and I don't know how much of it he means and how much of it is to make reporters have a headache.


- As a decorated officer, a retired Colonel, what are the needs of Ukraine and its international partners to help the Ukrainian Army regain battlefield initiative?

- That's a very good question. I think it's essential that right now the reset happens. I think Ukraine has taken a hard situation with the minefields and getting ground up since June of last year, almost a year now. It's just so hard to get to the Russian defensive positions. They dug them deep, they’ve mined fields. They had the minefields covered with artillery, and Ukraine took a beating on trying to do this. And the frontal attack is nota technique that I would have done without a lot of engineering equipment. They needed the armored bulldozers, they needed the mine clearing device that fires the explosive cord out which blows a path through. But all of that has to be orchestrated and everything has to be ready. And when the path is cleared, then you rush through.

Also, the U.S. has never had to fight a war like what is being fought by the Ukrainians right now. Because if you look at what we had in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was small fights here and there – nothing like this. And even Vietnam was more of a jungle war. There wasn't armor in big numbers. There wasn't this big linear attack. It was it was more pockets of fighting. So you'd have to go all the way back to Korea or the Second World War to find an American Army that had to deal with the things that Ukraine is dealing with now.

Besides, the technology has changed the battlefield. It's done so even in the last six months. A year ago, we were pretty proud of the fact we're giving them M1 tanks and things like that. But now we realize that an M1 tank really isn't worth a whole lot on the battlefield because of the drones. And if you take the cost of an M1 tank and you give that to Ukrainian drones – that would be much more valuable.

The problem is, the Americans don't understand drone warfare. We need to learn it from you. We need advisors over here that are hearing, seeing things, and making notes so that we don't have Americans die because they don't know what to do. So drones I think are essential, especially those with thermal night vision and the ability to carry enough weight to be a significant value in ordinance that they can carry.

The other thing I would say is that we should look at ramping up to the highest level we can our HIMARS and ATACMS production. If you look at what we've done to this point in terms of ATACMS supplies, the only thing we've given you is our missiles that were almost out of date. They were going to have to be cut up because there was old. They have bomblets that are effective if you have infantry in the open, not necessarily great for trench warfare, which is exactly what you're trying to fight. But part of it was breaking down the barriers because Putin keeps putting out red lines. And when he puts out the red lines, the whole world goes: “We don't want a nuclear war.”

But if you look closer, he's  kind of a paper tiger as he really doesn't do anything but make a lot of noise. I don't think that deep down he has equipment and quite frankly, the skilled folks to execute a much higher level war, otherwise say, a war with NATO. So all these threats are just ways of keeping NATO from helping Ukraine.

So I think others need to do what the British just announced: if we give you something to fight the war with, then you fight the war anywhere you want. Because that's the bottom line, you win the war, and you do whatever you got to do. Russia is not hesitating to shoot anywhere they want in Ukraine. Why should Ukraine hesitate?

That's why it I find it disturbing that the U.S. is upset about the fuel depots or the refineries that Ukraine is hitting. If you can find it, destroy it, do it. You may hear rumblings that the United States isn't happy with that because it could affect oil prices ahead of the elections, which could be a factor… But this is about winning a war. It should not be about fuel prices. If the whole world has to pay more, in the end, the war is successful and Russia is defeated. Then I think that's the price the world pays, but we shouldn't restrict or put handcuffs on Ukraine. They have the ability, knowledge and understanding how to win the war. They just don't have the tools.

If only they had virtually unlimited HIMARS and ATACMS, the new generation with the range of 300 kilometers and hit within a few meters. There are good targets out there, and you know where they're at, and you can take them out. I think that the Crimea Bridge is one of those ATACMS has the relevant range so they could succeed if you target the bridge with multiple missiles, especially at the pylons. So once they collapse enough of that bridge, they're done, they will never rebuild that bridge. You will never get Crimea back with that bridge in place, it has to go.

So again, this is HIMARS, ATACMS, and drones. And you have to figure out how to sustain the country. And that's something people forget. It's not all about military aid. You still have a government to run. You have roads to build. So all of this needs to be as a part of these packages and not restricted to just military items.

- Also, energy support, taking into account all those Russian strikes...

- Actually, you were so far ahead of us on energy issues. You had a better setup for nuclear energy than we did. Unfortunately, your biggest plant is in Russian hands now, and many of your facilities have now been damaged or destroyed because of what Russia is trying to do in breaking the morale of the Ukrainian people. If they're in the dark Ukraine will quit fighting, I disagree. They’ll just keep fighting in the dark and not going to stop. They have invested in this thing called Freedom. They have tasted it and they're not going to live without it.


- Can you tell us a bit more about the purpose of your current visit to Ukraine? Are you here for consultations or as advisor to someone?

- I don't know if I'd say I was in a capacity of advisor to anyone during all my trips. I kind of left it open to see who needs help where, and how can I take the message and share with those who need to hear it. We're going to be working the front all the way from Kharkiv and down to Odesa, with multiple different units, on different subjects. Obviously, the drone warfare. The Army of Drones is something we're very interested in. We also want to talk about mine clearing and what is being done. Because again, Ukraine is the best prepared army in the world right now when it comes to mine clearing and putting in minefields, We haven't put in minefields in a long time. Korea was probably the last time we did minefields. In Vietnam, we had small anti-personnel mines but this is something that we have very little knowledge of and we have to have to get smarter because I think it's going to be something that we'll see in a future war. In the places we've fought lately we had a few minefields in Iraq but it was easy to clear them. It wasn't complicated, they weren’t covered with artillery.

The Russians may be slow at figuring out things but they do figure things out and they do a pretty good job. Sometimes they figure out how to counter what we do whether it be weapon systems or tactics. So that's why I think as we figure out technology, it provides an opportunity, that small window where there could be a breakthrough of some type. I worry that time is Russia’s friend in that they can dig more defensive positions, which makes it next to impossible to get through. So, to take too much time and set back and let them work will only cost lives in the future. So to a degree. there is a time essence to what needs to happen.

- As for sustaining the country, sustaining our economy, are there any areas where Nebraska, the state of Nebraska, could work with Ukraine’s government officials on the country’s recovery efforts?

- There are several. For one, right now in Germany there are American battalions training Ukrainian battalions, brigades, and Nebraska has provided instructors to do that. So we have our Nebraska soldiers forward training Ukrainian soldiers in Europe, part of what they've actually enjoyed doing. And the other part of this, Nebraska is sort of like Ukraine in that it's a very large agricultural territory. We joke about Ukraine being like Iowa the size of Texas in terms of how much ground you have that you can grow crops in. It's big. And about a quarter of that is damaged or taken by the war and not available. So now you have a country that was a bread basket not just to Europe but also for North Africa and Central Asia. There was a lot of people that depended on Ukraine for crops. Now obviously it was a big drop off in 2022. But Ukraine needs to be able to have their crops get to market because that's the lifeblood of the country. It's an agricultural country. The problem is the war has caused a lot of issues, including the Black Sea not being available like it should be. There's not the capacity to go by rail or truck. So a lot of that grain was wasted in in 2022 and 2023.

It's getting better. The problem now is the demining of the areas that were controlled by the Russians and were taken back in. Since the fall of 2022, when you regained the large area, there's still a lot of mines there, in farmland areas. Meanwhile, Nebraska has a unique position with irrigation, there are five major irrigation companies in the United States, and four of them are in Nebraska. We have a lot of capacity for seed corn. We have a lot of capacity for agricultural equipment, like combines and tractors. And then we have several companies that specialize in building grain bins. And they also work on building the distributors and the legs, the part that moves the grain from the bins to the ships. And this is all stuff is needed and will be needed for your ability to get your agri-products on ships and the ships out to sea. So, what I've been given the authority as a representative from our governor's office is to talk with a representative from your Ministry of Agriculture and connect people. If you have certain needs, we can figure out who can meet those needs and then make sure that that contract can be distributed and shipped.

But if we wait till the war is over and you start only then, there's a huge delay. If we can start working on some of that now, something can be delivered before the war's over, as long as we have a way to bring it to ports. We may bring it as far as say Romania and then bring it over land from there… So those are a lot of things that will need to work through but that's one of the tasks that I have is to make sure that we make that connection and we start utilizing certain resources. We have to help Ukraine beyond the war.


- We have the inaugural Global Peace Summit set to be held in Switzerland this June, that's initiated by Ukraine. We're trying to attract as many countries as possible to the project hoping this will actually start the path toward peace. What are your expectations of the initiative?

- The trick is education. I think, the word must get out of what the mission or the purpose of this is and what the long-term goals are after the meeting. Because a lot of times people go to meetings just to meet and they don't really make it so that there's a product that you work toward successfully completing or organizing. So I would hope that the information that goes out will tell enough of what's going to be essential as far as the end state of this that people will see value to it. And they'll come to it because they can see how they can fit in. If you look at the countries who should be there, obviously every country in Europe. There's really no reason not to. There might be a few, say Serbia, somebody who maybe has a closer affiliation with Russia, but if you look at the EU, there really is no excuse for any of those countries not to be there. And then, if you look around the world, all those countries that are part of the G7, all those countries that have been donors to Ukraine, you would think they would be there and have a keen interest in seeing what's going to come out of this and what is some of the visions folks have and what are some of the needs that are identified that they may not be aware of.

- What is your overall vision of the end to the war in Ukraine?

- Well. I would like to see things go back to the 1991 lanes, but I fear that the difficulties in Donbas are so great and there's so much destruction and so many layers of defenses that it's really going to be hard. And I think that Crimea is a very lucrative opportunity that can be taken and held. There will be a hard decision that will have to be made by the Ukrainian government at some point. Do we continue to sacrifice to take back those original borders? And if that's worth the price paid, then that's what you have to do.

But I think there'll be a point where the pain becomes so much that it's hard to keep the morale up because war will wear you down. We've seen that in the long wars we've been in and they weren't near as violent or as hard as what you're going through. So I think that if I was in charge of making hard decisions, I would focus on taking back Crimea and, with the right help from the countries that are donating, that can be done. And I think it can be done relatively quick within the next six months.

The rest of it, I keep hoping that somehow there'll be a collapse within Russia. Whether it be because of the economy, because of internal issues, or because they get a new president. But all of that is a wish and I don't know that is going to happen. It is such a difficult situation there now. There is no democracy or even thought of democracy. There is a dictatorship. And if anyone disagrees, go to Siberia, whatever. So there's no real hope of a spontaneous uprising where they change governments, I just think that if that happened, it would be crushed. The closest thing to that was probably when Prigozhin tried to make a run for Moscow. Had he done that, he might have changed history, who knows. But I don't think there's anyone in a position of power now that can really influence anything there. So someone will have to make a hard decision at some point.

- What is now the overall temperature across the bipartisan domain? Is it closer to “we'll support you for as long as it takes” or “for as long as we can”?

- Well, that is the hardest question, you've asked. I think that in the heart of the majority, it is for as long as it takes because they understand the consequences. But I think we probably need to have this same interview in in about six or seven months when the election's over and we see how the numbers have changed. Because the numbers in the House might change and the president might change. This could be a much different picture. Do I think it'll be a worse picture or better picture? I think it will be a better picture. But if, again, someone has to continue to deliver the message of what is happening in Ukraine. Because right now, it's a vacuum. Every focus is on Israel. There are some occasional messages here and there that there have been X number of missiles fired at Kyiv. But no one has set out and said “This is the war, this is what the war looks like, and this is how it's being fought.”

People are oblivious to the fact that there's a true drone war going on and that the value of a tank is nowhere near what it used to be. I think there may be places in the future where you can have open combat on a desert-like environment, where drones are less effective, but on the Eastern Front here, I don't see tanks being very valuable unless it's in a breakthrough where there's a a breach in the line and there's opportunity to shoot through. But the drones will chase you down, too, coming from any direction, anytime, and they have so much capability with both thermal and night vision. That's the new way of fighting a war.

And I fear that NATO is not prepared for it. There will be a point where the best trained, maybe not best equipped, but a well-equipped army in Europe will be the Ukrainian Army because of what they've had to do in fighting this war alone.

- I see you have plenty of messages to bring back home from this visit. And I hope you have another message to people in the U.S., in Nebraska, and that’s to read Ukrinform to learn more about the ongoing war and about our country in general. And to make sure the decision makers are making the right decisions because it all depends on the people if they understand what's going on.

- I will do my best to share that message and hopefully in a few months, we can have a discussion again, and the news will be better.

Ievgen Matiushenko

Photo: Kyrylo Chubotin

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