DeSantis backtracks on Ukraine ‘territorial dispute’ remark – KGET 17

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is walking back his characterization of Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” following criticism from a number of fellow Republicans who expressed concern about the 2024 presidential candidate’s dismissal of the conflict.

In excerpts of an interview with Piers Morgan scheduled to air Thursday on Fox Nation, DeSantis said his earlier comments related to ongoing fighting in the eastern Donbass region, as well as Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea. Ukraine’s borders are internationally recognized, including by the United Nations.

“What I’m talking about is the place where the fighting is now going on, which is the eastern border region of Donbas, then Crimea, and you have a situation where Russia had it. I don’t think it’s legitimate, but they are,” DeSantis said, according to excerpts. “There are many ethnic Russians there. So it’s kind of a tough fight, and that’s what I meant, so I didn’t think Russia had the right to do that, so if I should have said that more clearly, I could have done that.”

DeSantis made his first comments last week in a written response to questions Fox News host Tucker Carlson sent to declared and potential GOP presidential candidates. The Florida governor, who is seen as former President Donald Trump’s main challenger for the 2024 GOP nomination, said defending Ukraine was not a national security priority for the US and downplayed the Russian invasion.

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the readiness crisis within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming increasingly embroiled in the territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis wrote, echoing how Russia has characterized its ongoing invasion.

In the days that followed, a number of Republican senators voiced criticism. In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said DeSantis “doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor,” adding that “foreign policy is all about nuance.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who endorsed Trump’s 2024 campaign, told Fox News that DeSantis is “essentially taking the Chinese position when it comes to the Russian invasion.”

Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John Cornyn of Texas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi said they disagreed with DeSantis’ framework.

In the Morgan interview, DeSantis tried to toughen his stance on Russia, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” and claiming his detractors had mischaracterized his remarks about a “territorial dispute.”

“I think it’s been mischaracterized,” he told Morgan, according to excerpts. “Obviously, Russia invaded — it was wrong. They invaded Crimea and occupied it in 2014 – that was wrong.”

Democrats also took advantage of DeSantis’ apparent shift, releasing emails rounding out the GOP’s criticism and saying DeSantis’ “stumbling over this response clearly shows he’s out of his depth.”

When asked by The Atlantic about DeSantis’ initial comments, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that inaction on Russian aggression in his country could end up drawing the US into the conflict if incursions into NATO member states.

“When they occupy NATO countries and are on the borders of Poland and maybe fight with Poland, the question is: will you send all your soldiers with weapons, all your pilots, all your ships? Will you send tanks and armored vehicles with your young men? Will you do that?” said Zelenskyy. “Because if you don’t do that, you won’t have NATO.”


Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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