DeSantis hardens tone against Putin after criticism from Republicans
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” marking a hardening of his stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after drawing criticism last week from fellow Republicans for rejecting his the conflict as a “territorial dispute”.
In an interview with “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” which will air Thursday on Fox Nation, the presumptive presidential candidate clarified that he has completely opposed Putin’s invasion, aligning himself more closely with other Republicans — and distancing himself from previous comments he said had been “mischaracterized”.
“Obviously, Russia invaded (last year) — that was wrong,” DeSantis said, according to a preview of the interview in a column published Wednesday in the New York Post. “Russia had no right to enter Crimea or go in February 2022 and that should be clear.”
The latest statements from DeSantis, who has yet to announce his candidacy for president, highlight growing division within the GOP over how Washington should respond to the Russian invasion and the amount of US aid to Ukraine in the ongoing war.
Last week, DeSantis was heavily criticized by members of his own party for describing the war as “a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” in which it was not in Washington’s interest to get further involved. DeSantis’ comments echoed the stance of former President Donald Trump, who has said that opposing Russia is a key interest for Europe, “but not for the United States.”
The storm of criticism highlighted the potential for Ukraine to become a major dividing line between Republican presidential contenders ahead of the 2024 election. In comments released last week, Trump argued that the two sides should negotiate a deal and said Russia’s opposition was not a vital American national interest.
DeSantis dismisses Russian invasion of Ukraine as a ‘territorial dispute’
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is weighing a 2024 presidential campaign, rejected DeSantis’ original characterization of the war in Ukraine, telling ABC News: “It’s a Russian invasion. It is just the latest case of Russia’s attempt to redefine international lines by force.”
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In Thursday’s interview, DeSantis took direct aim at Putin, according to a clip. “He’s a war criminal,” DeSantis said. “I think he should be held accountable.” He was referring to last week’s decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for the Russian leader. The court has accused Putin of war crimes for “illegal deportation” and “illegal transfer” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine.
In DeSantis’ earlier comments, he said the United States “cannot prioritize intervening in an escalating foreign war over protecting our homeland, especially as tens of thousands of Americans are dying each year from narcotics smuggled across the border our open air and our arsenals of weapons critical to our security are rapidly being depleted.”
DeSantis also said Washington should not provide Kiev with any military aid that would allow Ukraine to launch offensives across its borders, excluding the delivery of F-16 fighter jets or long-range missiles.
DeSantis’ comments last week also contrasted with his words and actions when he was a congressman from Florida. In 2014, DeSantis voted for an aid package for Ukraine and co-sponsored a 2015 resolution calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine while authorizing security assistance to Kiev.
DeSantis’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While DeSantis’ change in tone will likely be welcomed by his Republican critics, he opened himself up to more criticism Thursday from Democrats.
“DeSantis stumbling over this answer makes it clear that he is out of his depth,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
The statement included pushback against his earlier comments from several Senate Republicans, including John Cornyn (Tex.), Lindsey O. Graham (SC), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.).
Leo Sands, John Wagner, Dan Lamothe and Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.