A potential Republican Party nominee to run for next year’s U.S. presidential election has pivoted from previously supporting Ukraine toward an isolationist policy stance causing ripples within his own party and in Kyiv.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis this week described Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine – entering its 10th year – as a “territorial dispute” and said it wasn’t a “vital” U.S. foreign policy interest, in a response he provided to a Fox News show hosted by news anchor Tucker Carlson, who has a documented history of parroting Kremlin narratives about Russo-Ukrainian relations.
Following his comments to Fox, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nykolenko invited DeSantis to visit Ukraine to witness the devastation caused by Russia.
“We are sure that as a former military officer deployed to a combat zone, Governor Ron DeSantis knows the difference between a ‘dispute’ and a war,” the diplomat tweeted. “We invite him to visit Ukraine to get a deeper understanding of Russia’s full-scale invasion and the threats it poses to U.S. interests.”
To many observers of Republican Party politics, the governor’s response to Fox News appeared as an about-face given his previous track record on Capitol Hill.
The former House representative and member of the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG), had previously voted for a resolution that called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the Kremlin seized the territory.
DeSantis, 44, also voted in favor of providing Ukraine $68 million in aid during that time as a freshman lawmaker, as well as on restrictive measures that were imposed on Russian and pro-Moscow Ukrainian officials involved in the peninsula’s illegal annexation.
Since incumbent Joe Biden’s presidency, Washington observers say he has positioned himself for a presidential run with only former President Donald Trump leading him in polls to win the Republican Party primary election.
DeSantis hasn’t officially announced his candidacy for the White House next year, yet now he is vocally questioning Washington’s involvement in Europe’s bloodiest war since World War II as the largest monetary aid provider to cash-strapped and war-battered Ukraine.
A poll commissioned by Atlanta-based CNN news broadcaster this month found that DeSantis is four percentage points behind Trump who enjoys 40 percent support to win their party’s primary election among respondents who identified as being Republican or Republican-leaning.
The splintering party is scheduled to select its presidential nominee in July 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The governor’s recent Ukraine comments prompted backlash from fellow party members, including Senator Marco Rubio in their home state of Florida.
“Obviously, he [DeSantis] doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor,” Rubio said.
Washington and European officials, as well as numerous scholars, such as historian Timothy Snyder, have characterized Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine as “genocidal.”
Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, the Florida senator said that “just because someone [Russia] claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them. This is an invasion [not a territorial dispute].”
The combative minority wing of the Republican Party is known as MAGA, whose acronym was Trump’s initial campaign slogan: “make America great again.” Some lawmakers within this cohort still question the legitimacy of Biden’s indisputable election, believe in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and often repeat Kremlin narratives on the war in Ukraine.
As a unit, the so-called MAGA Republicans have yet to provide their vision of the U.S.’s future in specific terms, including their foreign policy goals and objectives. Observers have struggled to find a cohesive message beyond their rhetoric and view it as a sign of political weakness.
A Twitter group, Republicans against Trumpism, also criticized the governor’s statement about Ukraine.
The group quoted former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a Republican, as saying: “Trump is right when he says Governor DeSantis is copying him – first in his style, then on entitlement reform, and now on Ukraine... Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo.
“If Russia wins, there is no reason to believe it will stop at Ukraine. And if Russia wins, then its closest allies, China and Iran, will become more aggressive.”
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