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What the Republican candidates have said on the war in Ukraine

Leading Republican candidates share a similar stance of withdrawing the US from the international stage

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
,Ariana Baio
Tuesday 09 January 2024 17:26 GMT
Ramaswamy appears to call Ukraine’s Zelensky a ‘Nazi’

As President Joe Biden likes to remind anyone who will listen, “This is not your grandfather’s Republican Party”.

That has never been more evident than when examining the way the 2024 Republican presidential candidates approach the topic of Ukraine.

Support for Ukraine is dividing the GOP field. Several candidates believe the US should continue to support the war effort – a stance that adheres to more traditional Republican foreign policy beliefs.

For years, leaders in the GOP like George W Bush sounded alarms about Russia and supported Nato membership for Ukraine.

But in more recent years, notably under former president Donald Trump, modern conservatives have embraced isolationism.

A number of other Republican candidates, including Mr Trump – the current frontrunner, have expressed support for this.

This is a rundown of what the GOP presidential candidates have said about Ukraine

Donald Trump

While president, Donald Trump tried to pressure Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into the Biden family (AFP via Getty Images)

While president, Mr Trump attempted to withhold military assistance to Ukraine to get Ukrainian Preisdent Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into Mr Biden, who Mr Trump saw as his main rival in 2020.

During an infamous press conference in Helsinki, Finland, Mr Trump sided with Mr Putin when asked if he believed Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election, as outlined by the US intelligence community.

More recently, Mr Trump has argued that all aid to Ukraine should be put on pause until federal agencies provide evidence regarding what he claimed were “corrupt business dealings” by Mr Biden and his son.

During a July rally in Pennsylvania, Mr Trump argued that Mr Biden was “dragging” the US into the war.

“The US Congress should refuse to authorize a single additional payment of our depleted stockpiles … until the FBI, [Department of Justice] and [Internal Revenue Service] hand over every scrap of evidence they have on the Biden crime family’s corrupt business dealings,” Mr Trump said in reference to what Republicans have claimed are allegations of bribery against Mr Biden.

The GOP has been unable to provide any evidence of the supposed scheme.

Mr Trump appeared on Fox News in March, saying that he would end the war in Ukraine “in 24 hours with Zelensky and with Putin”.

“And there’s a very easy negotiation to take place. But I don’t want to tell you what it is because then I can’t use that negotiation – it’ll never work. But it’s a very easy negotiation to take place. I will have it solved within one day, a peace between them. Now that’s a year and a half. That’s a long time. I can’t imagine something not happening,” he added. “The key is the war has to stop now because Ukraine is being obliterated.”

Mr Trump has also been ambivalent about his support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). While president he equivocated over whether he would back Article V, which states that an attack on any one of the defence pact’s 31 members constituted an attack on all of them. The article has only been invoked once, by the US following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

He is also reported to have wanted to pull the US out of Nato.

Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was forced to walk back his initial dismissive comments about the conflict (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Florida governor does not believe the US should be involved in Ukraine but walked back his comments calling the war a “territorial dispute”.

In March, Mr DeSantis called the war “a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” and said it should not be one of the US’s national interests to get involved.

He faced backlash for diminishing the severity of the war and later clarified that he was only referring to the fighting in Donbas and Crimea when he called it a dispute.

Since then, Mr DeSantis has steered away from making too many comments on the war.

In April, he said he supported a ceasefire, saying it’s “in everybody’s interest”.

He told the Japanese English-language weekly Nikkei Asia that “You don’t want to end up in like a [Battle of] Verdun situation, where you just have mass casualties, mass expense and end up with a stalemate”.

During debates, he’s made it clear he would not support sending US troops to Ukraine.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy has sought to link the war to the president’s son (Getty Images)

Mr Ramaswamy opposes the US intervening in Ukraine, has suggested Ukraine should concede territory to Russia and made mocking remarks about President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Of the candidates, Mr Ramaswamy has displayed the most anti-Ukraine rhetoric calling the country anti-democratic.

In August, the tech entrepreneur suggested that the US is aiding Ukraine because of Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings – a reference to unsubstantiated allegations made by congressional Republicans.

He suggested Russia and Ukraine should make an agreement to end the war – one in which Ukraine would make major concessions to Mr Putin by handing over the eastern Donbas regions and blocking Ukraine from joining Nato.

“I don’t think it is preferable for Russia to be able to invade a sovereign country that is its neighbour, but I think the job of the US president is to look after American interests,” Mr Ramaswamy told ABC News.

During the third GOP debate in November, Mr Ramaswamy referred to Mr Zelensky as a “comedian in cargo pants” and mocked the Ukrainian president for allegedly celebrating a Nazi.

The reference was to an incident in September where Mr Zelensky applauded for a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran who was later found to have served in a Nazi-aligned military unit during World War II. Mr Zelensky, who is Jewish, lost family members during the Holocaust.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley says supporting Ukraine’s defence of its homeland also sends a start message to China over its threats to Taiwan (Getty Images)

The former UN ambassador believes it is in the US’s best interest to support Ukraine.

“A win for Ukraine is a win for all of us because tyrants tell us exactly what they’re going to do,” she said on CNN.

Ms Haley has said that a Ukrainian victory would send a broader message to warn China about attacking Taiwan, that it would push Iran to not build nuclear weapons, and urge North Korea to move away from ballistic missile testing.

She has been critical of Mr Biden’s “slow and weak” reaction to helping Ukraine.

Chris Christie

Chris Christie meeting Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv (via REUTERS)

Mr Christie supports sending US military aid to Ukraine and visited the country earlier this year.

Like Ms Haley, Mr Christie believes it is in the US’s best interest to support Ukraine.

“None of us like the idea that there’s a war going on and that we’re supporting it, but the alternative is for the Chinese to take over, the Russians, the Iranians and the North Koreans,” the former New Jersey governor said on CNN.

He noted that “some kind of compromise” with Russia may be required at some point and that the US should be part of the negotiations at a time when “Ukraine can protect the land that’s been taken by Russia in this latest incursion”.

He argued that Mr Trump “set the groundwork” for the invasion and echoed 2016 comments by former Secretary of State and then-Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, calling him “Putin’s puppet”.

He compared Mr DeSantis to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who unsuccessfully attempted to appease Adolf Hitler ahead of the Second World War.

Asa Hutchinson

Asa Hutchinson, US Republican presidential hopeful, speaks during his Fair Side Chat at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 15, 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

The former Arkansas governor said on CNN last year that it would be “a mistake to withdraw funding for Ukraine in this extraordinary fight against Russia and Russia’s aggression against the sovereign territory of Ukraine”.

“I’m very much supportive of Ukraine. I believe they’re fighting a battle that helps reflect a free Europe,” he added.

He has also said that the US should help Ukraine “win quickly,” according to Politico.

He called Mr DeSantis “naive” for suggesting the US doesn’t have a vital interest in the conflict.

The GOP “needs to have leaders who understand the importance of the strength of America and our utilization of that strength in the cause of freedom,” he said.

“To dismiss this as something unimportant to the security of the United States is naive and not in our historic traditions,” he told McClatchy.

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