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U.S. risks war with Russia unless President Biden defines success in Ukraine, Rep. Stewart says

‘The president has to tell the American people this is what we’re trying to do in Ukraine,’ Stewart said

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Rep. Chris Stewart speaks in Sandy on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks at an election night event for Republican candidates at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Nov. 3, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

If the White House maintains its continued support for Ukraine without defining success, the U.S. risks going to war with Russia, Rep. Chris Stewart said on Thursday.

The Utah Republican blasted the Biden administration’s response to the Russian invasion during Fox Business’ “Kennedy”, calling on the president to define victory in Ukraine to avoid “a 20-year commitment like we ended up in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“I’m not a flower-toting pacifist, I’m a military guy. ... I also believe that America has an extraordinary responsibility to defend freedom and democracy around the world when we can,” Stewart told host Lisa Montgomery. “But we also have to look at the last 20 years in Afghanistan, and Iraq and Libya and other places. And the problem was that we had an unending and open ended commitment and we never really defined what success was.”

In an August statement, Biden said the U.S. was “committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty.”

Since the war broke out in February, the U.S. has directed over $15 billion in security assistance to Ukraine — funds that many analysts say directly contributed to the counter offensive that in recent weeks reclaimed nearly 3,000 square miles of previously occupied territory.

That aid includes intelligence that helped Ukraine kill several Russian generals and destroy tanks and air defense systems.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cited the recent victories as a reason for more U.S. support, including a missile system capable of striking within 190 miles. That would allow Ukraine to target Crimea.

Zelenskyy’s “idea of winning this war is to expel every Russian,” Stewart said, and continued support for that goal would be a major escalation that could drag the U.S. into a war with Russia.

“The president has to tell the American people this is what we’re trying to do in Ukraine. And if that means expelling every Russian soldier from Ukraine including from the Donetsk region and Crimea, I promise you that means we’re going to go to war with Russia,” he said. “If on the other hand it means maybe going back to the pre-February lines, that’s probably something we could negotiate. but that’s not what Zelenskyy is thinking.”

Stewart said there’s a “growing sentiment” in Congress to define success in Ukraine and to avoid “an unending and open-ended commitment” like the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Biden has walked a fine line, warning that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” while also calling on all nations to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his speech at this week’s U.N. General Assembly.

The speech came just days after Putin issued a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s occupied territory in Ukraine.

Stewart did not touch on the nuclear threat during his appearance on Fox, but did blast Biden, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“If that’s their definition of a victory, of success, that should worry every one of us when we look at Ukraine,” Stewart said. “... They’ve certainly lost my confidence and I think they’ve lost the confidence of most Americans when it comes to these very not just important, actually critical national security issues.”