Ron DeSantis Calls Russia’s War in Ukraine a “Territorial Dispute”
Downplaying Russia’s war of aggression against its neighbor as a “territorial dispute,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested he would leave Ukraine to fend for itself if he was elected president next year. “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 in response to a “Ukraine questionnaire” from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. “We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland.”
The comments were perhaps the clearest look at the prospective GOP presidential candidate’s foreign policy agenda, particularly on the year-old war in Ukraine. While they represent a break from many top Republicans, they put him in line with his closest 2024 rival: Donald Trump. “The United States has spent much more than Europe, and that is not fair, just, or equitable,” the former president told Carlson, after previously suggesting to Fox’s Sean Hannity that he would consider letting Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine. “If I were President, that horrible war would end in 24 hours, or less,” Trump told Carlson, adding that while he does not support regime change in Russia, “we should support regime change in the United States.”
To be sure, much of the GOP continues to support military aid to Ukraine, a democracy under siege by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. In fact, some Republican leaders have criticized President Joe Biden for not doing more to help its ally. “It is not enough to do the right things; we need to do the right things at the right speed,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month in a statement on the one year anniversary of Putin’s invasion. “The Biden administration and our allies must act more decisively to ensure that both our collective assistance to Ukraine and the investments we each make in our own militaries take place at the speed of relevance.”
But polls have shown more and more Republican voters tiring of U.S. support for Ukraine, suggesting that there is a growing base for the isolationism Trump and DeSantis promoted Monday to Carlson, himself one of the most strident critics of American intervention in Ukraine. That deepening fracture within the party has been especially apparent in the Republican-controlled House, currently being steered by the MAGA right. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, seeking to rally that right-wing caucus around his bid for the gavel last year, warned that he would not allow Biden to write a “blank check” to Ukraine — language other Republicans, like DeSantis, have used in their criticism of the administration’s foreign policy. Amid growing doubts over the GOP’s commitment to Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited McCarthy to visit the embattled nation, as Biden did in a surprise trip last month. “He has to come here to see how we work, what’s happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now,” Zelenskyy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last week. “And then, after that, make your assumptions.” But the House Speaker declined the offer, telling CNN that he does not “have to go to Ukraine to understand where there’s a blank check or not.”
“I don’t have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv to see it,” McCarthy said. “And my point has always been, I won’t provide a blank check for anything.”
That more isolationist view isn’t quite yet the party line, and it’s possible DeSantis’ own “America First” foreign policy approach will turn off some more hawkish Republicans, figures who have already been alienated by Trump. But with the two top GOP contenders casting doubt on support for Ukraine — and other, lower level likely hopefuls for the nomination either doing the same or using similar language about Biden’s supposed “blank check” — things certainly seem to be trending in that direction. Next year’s election, then, won’t only carry enormous stakes for the direction of the United States; it could determine the future of Ukraine, whose existential fight against Putin’s invaders has relied on the assistance the U.S. has helped marshal.