DeSantis backtracks on statement calling Ukraine war ‘territorial dispute’ after backlash

Florida governor says he ‘regretted’ using the phrase ‘territorial dispute’ about war in Ukraine

Sravasti Dasgupta
Thursday 23 March 2023 06:03 GMT
(RELATED) Ron DeSantis brushes off Donald Trump insults during interview with Piers Morgan

Florida governor Ron DeSantis backtracked on his statement calling Russia’s war in Ukraine a “territorial dispute” after facing backlash from fellow Republicans.

In an interview with Piers Morgan, Mr DeSantis termed Russian president Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” and demanded he be “held accountable” for his barbaric invasion of Ukraine.

Last week, Mr DeSantis said to Fox News host Tucker Carlson that it is against the US’s national interest to get “entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia”.

“While the US 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,” Mr DeSantis said.

In the interview, which is slated to be aired on Thursday on “Piers Morgan Uncensored”, Mr DeSantis said he regretted using the phrase “territorial dispute”.

Writing in The New York Post about the interview, Morgan quoted the Florida governor as saying: “Well, I think it’s been mischaracterised. Obviously, Russia invaded (last year) – that was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 – That was wrong.”

The Florida governor, who is laying the groundwork to win the Republican nomination against former president Donald Trump for the 2024 elections, faced a torrent of criticism from Republicans for his remarks.

“What I’m referring to is where the fighting is going on now which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea, and you have a situation where Russia has had that. I don’t think legitimately but they had,” Mr DeSantis clarified.

“There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there. So, that’s some difficult fighting and that’s what I was referring to and so it wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that, and so if I should have made that more clear, I could have done it, but I think the larger point is, okay, Russia is not showing the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO.

“That’s a good thing. 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,” he said.

Mr DeSantis also added that he viewed the Russian president as a “war criminal” who should be held “accountable”.

“I think he is a war criminal,” he was quoted as saying.

“This ICC … we have not done that in the US because we’re concerned about our soldiers or people being brought under it. So, I don’t know about that route, but I do think that he should be held accountable.”

Former vice president Mike Pence on ABC’s “This Week” called the description of the war in Ukraine as a territorial dispute “wrong”. He said: “There are voices in our party that don’t see a vital American interest in Ukraine. But I see it differently.”

“This is a clear – it’s not even a questionable – a clear vital national interest, to support what is going on in Ukraine,” New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu said, according to Politico.

“If you let Russia start to come in and walk over Ukraine, you put all of Eastern Europe at risk. You put all of our NATO allies there at risk. And then when a NATO ally is now at risk, now you really risk having to put potential American troops on the ground, which nobody wants to see and shouldn’t happen,” he said.

Earlier this week the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Mr Putin and accused him of war crimes by taking hundreds of Ukrainian children from orphanages.

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