DeSantis Labels Russia's War Against Ukraine a 'Territorial Dispute'

Florida governor says United States must avoid becoming further entangled in European conflict

(Getty Images)
March 14, 2023

Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R.) called for less U.S. involvement in the "territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia," an apparent break from traditional Republican foreign policy voices who have urged staunch United States support for Ukraine.

DeSantis, in a statement provided to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, said that "while the U.S. has many vital national interests … becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them." DeSantis stopped short of calling for a freeze on U.S. military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine but said the United States cannot provide advanced weapons like missiles and aircraft.

"F-16s and long-range missiles should therefore be off the table," DeSantis said. "These moves would risk explicitly drawing the United States into the conflict and drawing us closer to a hot war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. That risk is unacceptable."

DeSantis’s call for less U.S. involvement in Ukraine has set up an early showdown between 2024 Republican presidential candidates as they attempt to set themselves apart on the foreign policy front. The governor's remarks appear to put him somewhere between former president Donald Trump, who has also opposed intervention in Ukraine, and declared presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who has been a strong supporter of aid for Ukraine—and are similar to the Biden administration's position of support for Ukraine that stops short of F-16s and long-range missiles.

Trump, who is widely seen as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, said earlier this week that instead of sending military equipment to Ukraine, he would be pushing both sides to accept a deal, even if that means Russia ultimately wins parts of Ukraine.

"I could have negotiated," Trump told Sean Hannity on his radio show. "At worst, I could have made a deal to take over something, you know, there are certain areas that are Russian-speaking areas, right, like, but you could have worked a deal. And now Ukraine is just being blown to smithereens."

Trump and DeSantis are at odds with the rest of the declared and likely-to-announce Republican field, including Haley, former vice president Mike Pence, and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Haley, who has already begun campaigning, is a strong proponent of U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Haley, in comments also provided to Carlson, called "opposing Russia in Ukraine a vital American national strategic interest." She made clear that the United States cannot stop supporting Ukraine until the war has ended.

"Russia’s objective is to take over all of Ukraine by military force. Our objective should be to help the Ukrainians prevent that from happening," she said. "If Russia stopped fighting and left Ukraine, the war would end instantly, and America would no longer need to play a role. If Ukraine stopped fighting, Ukraine would no longer exist, and other countries would legitimately fear they would be next."

This support, however, should not include "blank checks" or "American troops," according to Haley.

Pence, who served under Trump and has not yet officially announced his candidacy, has taken aim at GOP isolationists like his former boss and a small cadre of Republican members of Congress.

"While some in my party have taken a somewhat different view, let me be clear: There can be no room in the leadership of the Republican Party for apologists for Putin," Pence said. "There can only be room for champions of freedom."

Pompeo, who also has not formally declared his candidacy, has been a vocal advocate for Ukraine. He said in late January that the United States should do "everything the Ukrainians are asking us to do. They haven't asked us to send our soldiers. They haven't asked for the 82nd Airborne. They've simply said, provide us the stuff we need. And it is their lives that are at risk."

Tech executive Vivek Ramaswamy, who threw his hat into the race last month and has virtually no foreign policy experience, described the war in Ukraine as a distraction from efforts to counter China.

"The main thing should be the main thing: focus on China," Ramaswamy said on Twitter in late February. "China wants the Ukraine war to last as long as possible to deplete Western military capacity before invading Taiwan. It’s working: we think we *look* stronger by helping Ukraine, but we actually *become* weaker vs. China."