Ron DeSantis calls Putin a ‘war criminal’, clarifying earlier comment on Ukraine

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida this week clarified his description of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, was a “war criminal” who should be “held accountable”.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican who is expected to announce a presidential campaign in the coming months, made his final comments in an interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan, who shared them with the New York Post and Fox News, both owned by Rupert Murdock. .

Last week, Mr. DeSantis made one of the most significant statements of the 2024 presidential campaign to date, to influential Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who criticized the Biden administration’s approach. towards Ukraine. “While the United States has many vital national interests,” DeSantis said in his statement, “getting further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”

Mr. DeSantis then did not mention Mr. Putin and criticized President Biden’s policy as a “blank check” to Ukraine without clear objectives, which diverts attention from American problems.

The line on a “territorial dispute” has been heavily criticized by foreign policy hawks, as well as by Republicans in Congress and, privately, by some Republican donors. It also brought Mr. DeSantis’ views closer to those of former President Donald J. Trump.

But Mr. DeSantis used a seemingly lengthy interview with Mr. Morgan earlier this week to clarify his statement to Mr. Carlson.

“I think he’s a war criminal,” Mr DeSantis said of Mr Putin, for whom the International Criminal Court has issued a war crimes arrest warrant. “I don’t know that way,” he said of the arrest warrant, “but I think he should be held accountable.”

To Mr Morgan, Mr DeSantis insisted his comment about a ‘territorial dispute’ had been ‘mischaracterized’, but he acknowledged it could have been clearer.

“Obviously Russia invaded” in 2022, DeSantis said. “It was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took it in 2014 – that was wrong.

While a Florida congressman, DeSantis blamed President Obama’s administration for not doing more as Russia annexed Crimea.

“What I’m referring to is where the fighting is happening right now, which is this eastern border region, Donbass, and then Crimea,” DeSantis said. He added: “There are a lot of ethnic Russians there. So these are tough fights, 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 clarified that, I could have done it.

But he added: “I think the most important point is, OK, Russia is not showing its ability to take over Ukraine, overthrow the government or certainly threaten NATO. This is a good thing. I just don’t think that’s enough interest for us to step up our involvement. I wouldn’t want to see American troops involved there. But the idea that I think somehow Russia was justified” in invading is “nonsense”.

He added that he did not believe the conflict would end with “Putin’s victory.” I don’t think the Ukrainian government is going to be overthrown by him, and I think that’s a good thing.

Mr. DeSantis’ stance on Russia has generated considerable interest among Republicans seeking an alternative to Mr. Trump. A wide band of Republicans voters came to say that the United States was too supportive of Ukraine.

The governor has a record as a congressman that has led different people to believe he shares their views on foreign policy, even when those people are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

But his comments to Mr Carlson were roundly condemned by a number of Republican senators, former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and potential 2024 rivals like Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey. And the lack of initial criticism of Mr. Putin was noted, especially since Mr. DeSantis, in his initial statement to Mr. Carlson, derided the notion of regime change in Russia.


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