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DeSantis says 'territorial dispute' comment on Ukraine war 'mischaracterized,' after GOP backlash

DeSantis also referred to Putin as a war criminal who needs to be "held accountable" for his actions.

Published: March 24, 2023 12:27pm

Updated: March 24, 2023 3:25pm

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says his comment about Russia's invasion of Ukraine being a "territorial dispute" has been mischaracterized, following backlash from establishment Republicans committed to U.S. funding for Ukraine.

The potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate made the comment last week during an interview on the Fox News Channel with opinion show host Tucker Carlson.

"What I'm referring to," DeSantis clarified Thursday on Fox News' streaming service Fox Nation, "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. I don't think legitimately, but they had."

Russia sent forces into bordering Crimea 2014, then annexed the region, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying, "We must start working on returning Crimea to Russia."

DeSantis said of his original comment: "I think it's been mischaracterized. Obviously, Russia invaded — that was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 — that was wrong."

Among the Washington Republicans who disagreed with DeSantis' original comments were Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, John Cornyn, of Texas, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. 

During the Fox News interview, the Florida governor also suggested Ukraine wasn't a vital interest of the United States. 

"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," he said.

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