US Republican DeSantis calls Ukraine war a ‘territorial dispute’

Florida governor and other leading conservative US presidential hopefuls express scepticism of Washington’s aid to Kyiv.

Ron DeSantis
'We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland,' Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wrote in a Fox News questionnaire [File: Allison Dinner/Reuters]

Washington, DC – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate, has described the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” that is not a top national security interest of the United States.

DeSantis’s position – which echoes that of former President Donald Trump, who has declared a run for the White House in 2024 – underscores growing scepticism among Republican politicians of Washington’s support for Ukraine as it tries to fend off Russia’s invasion.

“While the US has many vital national interests, … becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said in a statement to Fox News host Tucker Carlson this week.

“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,” the governor said.

DeSantis, who has not yet announced his intention to run for president but is largely seen as Trump’s most serious rival in the 2024 Republican primaries, has championed right-wing positions on domestic issues, including abortion, education and immigration.

But his comments on Monday mark one of the first times he has articulated a detailed position on Ukraine.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has made supporting Ukraine a key part of his administration’s foreign policy.

The US Congress approved more than $100bn for Ukraine through four spending bills last year – funds that the Biden administration has been dispensing through periodic military, humanitarian and budgetary aid to Kyiv.

While the assistance has passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, a few far-right legislators have been critical of it, arguing that the funds would be better spent on domestic priorities.

“We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland, especially as tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year from narcotics smuggled across our open border and our weapons arsenals critical for our own security are rapidly being depleted,” DeSantis told Fox News.

Carlson, an influential ultra-conservative commentator, has been one of the most prominent opponents of Biden’s support for Ukraine.

His show had sent a questionnaire on Ukraine to several potential Republican presidential candidates. Carlson read some of their responses on air on Monday and later posted them in full on social media.

For his part, Trump stressed that European countries, which are most affected by the war in Ukraine, should be contributing more towards aid for the country. Washington also should be pushing towards an agreement to end the conflict, the former Republican president told Fox News.

“The President must meet with each side, then both sides together, and quickly work out a deal. This can be easily done if conducted by the right President,” Trump wrote.

“Both sides are weary and ready to make a deal,” he said. “The meetings should start immediately, there is no time to spare. The death and destruction MUST END NOW!”

‘As long as it takes’

Biden and his top aides say US assistance to Ukraine will go on “as long as it takes” for Kyiv to secure what Washington calls a “just and lasting peace”.

US officials have also said Washington will not pressure Kyiv to make territorial concessions to Moscow, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin can end the war immediately by putting a stop to the assault and withdrawing his country’s troops.

Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine last year after a months-long standoff that saw Moscow amass troops near Ukraine’s borders as Putin demanded an end to NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.

Russia has suffered battlefield setbacks since then as the US and its allies supply Ukraine with increasingly advanced weapon systems. The Kremlin is now focused on capturing eastern parts of Ukraine.

Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, who also has declared interest in pursuing the 2024 Republican nomination, expressed a more mainstream position on the war. He said on Monday that Washington’s objective in the conflict should be “victory” for Kyiv.

“Unfortunately, the Biden administration slow walked aid to Ukraine, every response has been too slow from providing intelligence to Ukraine, to hammering Russia with sanctions, to providing military equipment and fighter jets to Ukraine,” Pence wrote on the Fox News questionnaire.

In contrast, DeSantis explicitly expressed opposition to supplying Ukraine with F-16 jets and long-range missiles.

The diverging conservative opinions on Ukraine highlight the rise of an isolationist wing within the Republican Party, which was once dominated by foreign policy hawks who backed the US invasion of Iraq 20 years ago.

During the 2016 US presidential race, Trump successfully seized on domestic frustrations with years-long US military campaigns abroad and drew widespread support for his “America First” foreign policy. That position has been increasingly embraced by other Republicans.

“President Biden’s blank check foreign policy in Ukraine has drawn nothing but ridicule and disdain from our adversaries and has diverted funding from essential needs in the United States,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told Carlson this week.

“Throwing money at Ukraine with no accountability or objective is clearly failing,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera