Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” who should be held accountable for invading Ukraine and said his previous statement on the war in Ukraine has been mischaracterized.
The latest comments by DeSantis, who is widely seen as a top 2024 presidential contender if he should enter the fray, came during an interview with journalist Piers Morgan in which he also shrugged off political attacks by former President Donald Trump. Morgan asked DeSantis if he supports the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recently issued arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“He is a war criminal,” DeSantis said, as seen in a clip of their exchange. The governor noted the United States does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, but he stressed, “I do think he should be held accountable.”
Ron DeSantis says Russia's President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal without the capability to realise his ambitions.
"[Putin] is basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons."
— Piers Morgan Uncensored (@PiersUncensored) March 22, 2023
DeSantis also addressed criticism of his statement last week about Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine in response to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson to current and potential GOP 2024 presidential candidates.
The governor provided a lengthy answer, which in part warned against escalating the conflict, but he made headlines for the assertion that “a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” is not one of the many “vital national interests” of the United States. His statement led to criticism from some more hawkish Republicans.
In a preview of his interview with DeSantis that is set to air Thursday night on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” published by the New York Post, Morgan said he asked the governor if he regretted using the phrase “territorial dispute.”
“Well, I think it’s been mischaracterized,” DeSantis said. “Obviously, Russia invaded (last year) — that was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 — that was wrong.”
The governor said that he was referring to “where the fighting is going on now which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea” where there are a lot of ethnic Russians.
“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,” DeSantis added. “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.”
DeSantis also stressed “the idea that I think somehow Russia was justified” in invading Ukraine is “nonsense.” But the governor made it clear that his view that disapproving of a conflict does not equate to getting increasingly involved to stop it.
“If I could snap my fingers, I’d give it back to Ukraine 100%. But the reality is what is America’s involvement in terms of escalating with more weapons, and certainly ground troops I think would be a mistake. So, that was the point I was trying to make but Russia was wrong to invade. They were wrong to take Crimea,” DeSantis said. “Russia did not have the right to go into Crimea or to go in February of 2022 and that should be clear.”
DeSantis and Trump may be on a collision course for the 2024 Republican nomination, but they seem to agree on Putin. In an interview last year, Trump agreed with Morgan’s assessment that “Vladimir Putin is now an evil, genocidal monster.”