IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ron DeSantis says protecting Ukraine is not a 'vital' U.S. interest

The GOP Florida governor and potential presidential candidate called it a "territorial dispute" with Russia, reflecting a momentous shift within the party.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seen during a press conference to
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Daytona Beach Shores in January.Paul Hennessy / SOPA / LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate, broke with many in his party Monday and told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that protecting Ukraine is not a "vital" national interest for the U.S.

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them," DeSantis wrote in a questionnaire response Carlson posted on his Twitter feed.

"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," DeSantis continued.

He argued that "peace should be the objective" for the U.S. and expressed his opposition to sending "F-16s and long-range missiles" to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian President Vladimir Putin's war.

The response aligns DeSantis with former President Donald Trump — who leads many GOP primary polls — and against many congressional Republicans who have supported aid to Ukraine. It signals the growing power of isolationist sentiments within a party that has long advocated for an active U.S. presence in global affairs. And it is likely to be an issue in the party's presidential primary.

DeSantis, a Trump protégé who has built a following of his own among conservative voters, is favored by many establishment Republicans who want to turn the page on the former president.

Trump, responding to the same questionnaire about whether opposing Russia in Ukraine is vital to U.S. interests, responded: "No, but it is for Europe. But not for the United States."

Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Republicans on the opposite side of the issue have argued that defending Ukraine against Putin's territorial ambitions is critical to protect not just European interests, but American ones, as well.

At the Munich Security Conference last month, McConnell said: "Let me start by saying: I am a conservative Republican from America, and I come in peace. Reports about the death of Republican support for strong American leadership in the world have been greatly exaggerated."

"We are committed to helping Ukraine. Not because of vague moral arguments or abstractions like the so-called ‘rules-based international order.’ But rather, because America’s own core national interests are at stake," McConnell added. "Because our security is interlinked and our economies are intertwined."

DeSantis’ response to Carlson is his most detailed yet about the hot-button foreign policy issue. He seemed frustrated in a recent interview with The Times of London, according to the journalist who spoke with him, when he was pressed for more specifics about how he would deal with Ukraine.

“Perhaps you should cover some other ground?” DeSantis said. “I think I’ve said enough.”

As a member of Congress, DeSantis voted for several defense bills that provided for U.S. military and intelligence support for Ukraine.

And in 2016, DeSantis voted for a resolution calling on then-President Barack Obama to “provide Ukraine with lethal defensive weapon systems to enhance the ability of the people of Ukraine to defend their sovereign territory from the unprovoked and continuing aggression of the Russian Federation.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence took thinly veiled shots at DeSantis in a speech commending U.S. engagement in Ukraine in Texas last month and in a follow-up interview.

“I would say anyone that thinks that Vladimir Putin will stop at Ukraine is wrong,” Pence said when he was asked about DeSantis’ position on U.S. efforts to help repel Russia in Europe.

At a donor conference in Texas in February, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ridiculed DeSantis for arguing that President Joe Biden has focused more on Ukraine’s border than the U.S. border with Mexico, according to Politico. Christie said that was one of the “false choices” some Republicans were pressing and asked how “they teach foreign policy in Tallahassee.”