DeSantis, a presumed candidate for president in 2024, said in a statement sent to Fox News host Tucker Carlson last week that the war was a “territorial dispute” and it wasn’t in the interests of the United States to get further involved. Following criticism from foreign policy hawks, including many within the Republican Party, the Florida governor appeared to walk back his comments, declaring in an interview with Piers Morgan that Putin was a “war criminal” who “should be held accountable.”
“I think he’s got grand ambitions,” he said of Putin generally. “I think he’s hostile to the United States, but I think the thing that we’ve seen is he doesn’t have the conventional capability to realize his ambitions. And so, he’s basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons, and one of the things we could be doing better is utilizing our own energy resources in the U.S.”
He then went on to say that his comment calling the war a “territorial dispute” was “mischaracterized,” but also said he could have been clearer.
“Well, I think it’s been mischaracterized. Obviously, Russia invaded (last year) — that was wrong,” DeSantis said. “They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 — That was wrong.”
“What I’m referring to is where the fighting is going on now, which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea, and you have a situation where Russia has had that,” he continued. “I don’t think legitimately, but they had. There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there. So, that’s some difficult fighting, 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 made that more clear, I could have done it.”
He then went on to attempt to take the middle road, implying that he believed the current level of U.S. involvement was sufficient and that the U.S. shouldn’t send in troops.
“I think the larger point is, OK, Russia is not showing the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO,” he said. “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. But the idea that I think somehow Russia was justified — that’s nonsense.”
The follow-up was met with a mixed reception. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) praised DeSantis for his comments regarding Putin, saying that they were “spot on.”
Carlson, who DeSantis sent last week’s comments on the war to, wasn’t impressed.
While not referencing DeSantis directly, Carlson bashed people that he said give in to the news media, who are made “to repeat whatever childish slogan they’ve come up with this week.” He then said, “Vladimir Putin is a war criminal,” in a mocking tone. His comments were made hours after DeSantis’s “war criminal” comments were made public, the New York Times reported.