In another sign he is preparing a run for president in 2024, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) revealed on Monday where he stands on U.S. support for Ukraine in a statement to conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
DeSantis said that opposing Russia in Ukraine is not a vital American interest, breaking with much of the GOP establishment and siding with former President Donald Trump, his biggest rival in a hypothetical run for the White House.
“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 a statement shared by Carlson, a top Ukraine skeptic.
The governor also echoed an argument made by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that the U.S. cannot continue writing a “blank check” to Kyiv.
“The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis, like many governors who ran for president before him, has been slow to sketch out his foreign policy views. In recent weeks, he ducked and dodged questions on the issue of U.S. support for Ukraine, generating speculation over whether he would side with a growing faction within the Republican Party that is questioning additional military and financial aid flowing to the country.
That he revealed his position to Carlson, who frequently espouses a sympathetic view of Russian President Vladimir Putin and echoes Kremlin talking points on his cable program, put an exclamation mark on DeSantis’ position ahead of an expected 2024 campaign announcement.
Evidence of Russian war crimes has mounted in the year since Putin launched his bloody invasion of Ukraine, including rape, torture, forced relocation and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Thousands of Ukrainians have been killed by Russian bombs, and countless more were forced to flee their homeland.
The biggest land war in Europe since World War II has upended Europe’s security and set off fears about what unchecked Russian aggression would mean in other corners of the world, including with regard to China and its ambitions toward Taiwan.
President Joe Biden reiterated his commitment to Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv last month to mark the one-year anniversary of the war. Biden said the “freedom of democracy at large” was at stake in the conflict.
DeSantis’ stance on Ukraine puts him at odds with leading GOP figures, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who said during the Munich Security Conference last month that his party’s leaders “are committed to helping Ukraine.”
On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took issue with DeSantis’ description of Russia’s war against Ukraine as a mere “territorial dispute.”
“It’s not a territorial dispute ... any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas,” Rubio told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview. “Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them. This is an invasion.”
But while top congressional Republicans have backed U.S. support for Ukraine so far, the sentiment among the GOP base has quickly shifted against it.
Trump, the twice-impeached former president who leads polls of the 2024 GOP presidential race, was an early isolationist voice with his “America First” platform. He also told Carlson that opposing Russia in Ukraine isn’t a key U.S. interest, calling on Biden to convene peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
“The President must meet with each side, then both sides together, and quickly work out a deal. This can be easily done if conducted by the right President. Both sides are weary and ready to make a deal. The meetings should start immediately, there is no time to spare,” Trump said in a statement.
A peace deal would likely involve some territorial concessions by Ukraine to an invading neighbor, an outcome that Ukrainian and U.S. leaders have ruled out.
DeSantis appears to be trying to win over Trump voters ahead of his own bid for president.
In the past few years, the governor seems to have shifted his foreign policy stance. The Florida Republican previously criticized former President Barack Obama’s administration for not sending arms to Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, according to CNN’s KFile.
Carlson requested answers to six questions from declared and likely 2024 GOP presidential candidates on their position on the Ukraine war. He also received answers from former Vice President Mike Pence, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur who already announced his run for president.
Pence said the U.S. and other world leaders would regret bailing on Ukraine. Citing former President Ronald Reagan and his stand against the Soviet Union’s aggression, Pence warned an unchecked Russia would create more problems for the U.S. in the future.
“There is no room for Putin apologists in the Republican Party. This is not America’s war, but if Putin is not stopped and the sovereign nation of Ukraine is not restored quickly, he will continue to move toward our NATO allies, and America would then be called upon to send our own,” Pence said.
“Vladimir Putin has revealed his true nature, a dictator consumed conquest and willing to spend thousands of lives for his commitment to reestablish the Greater Russian Empire,” he added. “Anyone who thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine’s border is not owning up to the reality of who Putin is.”
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her candidacy for president last month, didn’t respond to Carlson’s request, according to a post on the host’s Twitter account.
Haley told NBC’s “Today” show last month the U.S. should support Ukraine with military equipment, but not money.