Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said his comments calling the Ukraine war a “territorial dispute” were “mischaracterized.”
Asked if he regretted using the term to describe Russia’s invasion, DeSantis told British TV personality Piers Morgan his words were taken out of context.
“Well, I think it’s been mischaracterized,” DeSantis, a likely 2024 presidential contender, said in a Talk TV interview set to air Thursday night, according to an excerpt published in the New York Post. “Obviously, Russia invaded — that was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 — That was wrong.”
DeSantis told Fox News prime time host Tucker Carlson last week that supporting Ukraine is not a vital U.S. interest. The position alienated top Republicans and put him more in line with his likely 2024 GOP rival, former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis, however, has lately appeared more willing to criticize Trump as he moves closer to joining the presidential race.
DeSantis told Morgan the poor performance of Russia’s invading military has shown President Vladimir Putin is unable “to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO.”
“That’s a good thing,” DeSantis said. “I just don’t think that’s a sufficient interest for us to escalate more involvement. I would not want to see American troops involved there. But the idea that I think somehow Russia was justified [in invading] — that’s nonsense.”
DeSantis also appeared to take a harsher stance against Putin, calling him a “war criminal,” and saying he “should be held accountable” for his military’s Ukraine atrocities.
The International Criminal Court last week issued an arrest warrant for Putin for illegally transferring Ukrainian children to Russia.
DeSantis said Putin “doesn’t have the conventional capability to realize his ambitions.”
“He’s basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons,” the governor added.
Earlier this month, DeSantis responded to a questionnaire sent by Carlson, a skeptic of U.S. support for Ukraine, to likely GOP 2024 presidential candidates.
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said in his statement responding to Carlson.
Several top GOP members, including Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Senate Republican, sought to distance themselves from those remarks.
“I would argue, and I think the majority of people in this country recognize how important it is, that Ukraine repel Russia,” Thune said, according to CBS News.
DeSantis seems to regard China’s rise as a greater risk, calling Taiwan a “critical interest.”
“They’re much more powerful, I think, than Putin and Russia are, and they really represent the biggest threat that we’ve seen to our ability to lead since the Soviet Union,” DeSantis told Morgan.