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DeSantis changes his tune on Ukraine, calls Putin a 'war criminal'

The Florida governor and potential presidential candidate previously characterized Russia's war in Ukraine as a "territorial dispute," drawing heavy criticism from some Republicans.
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WASHINGTON — After having downplayed Russia’s war against Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” in remarks to Fox News, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis changed course in a new interview by calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” who needs to face consequences for his actions.

“I think he is a war criminal,” DeSantis told Piers Morgan in an interview published Wednesday in the New York Post, adding: “I do think that he should be held accountable.”

DeSantis argued that his earlier statement to Fox News host Tucker Carlson had been “mischaracterized” and that his “larger point” was that he doesn’t think Russia can “take over Ukraine” or “threaten NATO” even if the U.S. doesn’t escalate its involvement. He said he wasn’t suggesting Russia’s invasion was justified.

“I think they have the right to that territory,” DeSantis said of Ukraine. “If I could snap my fingers, I’d give it back to Ukraine 100%."

In the Post interview, DeSantis didn’t take a position on the more complicated dispute within the GOP about whether the U.S. should send more military assistance or weapons to Ukraine.

DeSantis, who hasn’t announced his intentions yet, is widely expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination. Surveys show him to be the main alternative to former President Donald Trump, who is attempting a comeback in 2024. If he runs, DeSantis would be navigating a complicated GOP primary landscape, needing to win over a large share of Trump supporters, as well as the former president's skeptics, to capture the nomination.

DeSantis said in a statement to Carlson published March 13: “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.”

His previous comments had earned rebukes from numerous senior Republicans on Capitol Hill who support Ukraine in its defense against Russia's invasion.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 10, 2023.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 10, 2023.Scott Olson / Getty Images file