Brad Wilson calls Putin a 'thug,' but wants answers on endgame for war in Ukraine

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson meets with Alex Robinson, Robinson Armament Co. general manager, at Robinson Armament in North Salt Lake on Thursday.

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson meets with Alex Robinson, Robinson Armament Co. general manager, at Robinson Armament in North Salt Lake on Thursday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — As Congress continues to debate further military and economic aid to Ukraine, Senate candidate Brad Wilson wants the U.S. to articulate a clear plan for resolving the conflict before sending more cash.

Wilson — the Republican former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives — recently completed a visit in all 29 counties in the Beehive State in his bid to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Mitt Romney, and said he's heard from voters across the state who don't understand the goal of the aid.

The Russia-Ukraine war has been raging for more than two years, and there is no clear end in sight to many Utahns, he said.

"What's frustrated voters around this state — and again, this is one of those issues where it doesn't matter whether you're in rural Utah or up here on the Wasatch Front — people don't have any idea what we're trying to accomplish here. They don't understand the mission," Wilson told the KSL and Deseret News editorial boards Thursday. "If I were to tell (Congress) what to do, it would be to articulate a strategy to the American people. We don't know what the endgame looks like, and there needs to be more transparency about where that money is going and what it's being used for."

Putin a 'thug,' 'war criminal'

When asked about fears that Russia may invade a neighboring country if Ukraine is unable to stop it, Wilson said he can't speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin's agenda but made no bones about what he thinks of the Russian leader.

"I think he's a thug," he said. "I think he's a war criminal. I think he should be held accountable for everything that he's done. In terms of his intentions, I genuinely — I don't know. I think though, attacking Ukraine is a very different thing than attacking a NATO country ... and that creates a whole different set of issues."

Former President Donald Trump has previously criticized nations that are party to the treaty for not meeting agreed targets for defense spending, and in February said he would "encourage" Russia to attack any NATO member that doesn't meet its financial obligations to the alliance.

Wilson said he thinks a second Trump presidency would project strength on the world stage and help deter further aggression, but said he does not want to see NATO "unravel."

"I want us to continue to be part of NATO, and I think it's a very fair question for us to be asking when you look at the dollars that have been spent on Ukraine — and no country has spent more than the United States — to evaluate. Is everyone doing their fair share?" he said. "You know what these conversations then do? It brings up an honest conversation about what's fair, what's right, and it brings people to the negotiating table.

"And we've seen this over and over again. Trump's actually pretty good at this," Wilson said.

Wilson would also like to condition Ukraine aid to enhanced security at the southern U.S. border, a common refrain from many Republicans.

But Ukraine isn't the only U.S. ally currently at war, and Wilson said he's more willing to send money to Israel as it bombards the Gaza Strip in an effort to destroy Hamas in the wake of the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks because the U.S. has "a commitment that we've made to them that we need to keep."

"I know that without Israel, peace in the Middle East would be very different," he said. "They've been a tremendous ally there, and helping them wipe Hamas off the face of the Earth is the right thing to do."

Second Amendment support

Prior to meeting with the KSL and Deseret News editorial boards, Wilson toured the Robinson Armament Co. factory in North Salt Lake, and met with Alex Robinson, the general manager and a GOP delegate.

Robinson manufactures a modular rifle similar to the popular AR-15 style rifles, and described several "constraints" on the firearm industry, including credit card processors and web hosts who don't want to do business with gun makers. He said the company was allowed to advertise on Parler, an alternative social media platform favored by conservatives, until Amazon booted the company from its cloud hosting service in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Robinson blamed "woke" companies and federal regulations — which make it hard for him to sell in certain states and outside of the U.S. — for the business' hurdles.

"There's so much energy put into nonsense," Wilson said.

Wilson later told the government should look into discrimination against certain industries, "especially when we have companies that have monopolies over certain things, or have the ability to infringe on free speech, and that's what this looks like."

He said the government should use caution — "in general, I'm a capitalist," he said — but said it's "fair" for Congress to look at ways to even the playing field for certain industries.

As for the thousands of Americans who die by firearms each year, Wilson said, "I think we've seen over and over again for years that gun control is not the answer to these problems. There are other solutions that can be put in place that deal with the root cause" — which he blamed on mental health issues.

"I think we have to just be honest about the real cause of these issues and treat the disease, not the symptoms. And that's what gun control is," he said.


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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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