April 22, 2024

Ukraine has invited Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to visit, after the Republican dismissed the Russian invasion as a “territorial dispute”.

Mr DeSantis is widely expected to run for president in 2024 and made his remarks in response to questions sent to possible Republican contenders.

The former congressman said continued US support of Ukraine was not among the country’s “vital national interests”.

Republican senators have lined up to criticise his comments.

Several senior lawmakers accused Mr DeSantis of dismissing or minimising alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and said Moscow’s aggression should not be dismissed.

Mr DeSantis has not officially announced his intention to challenge former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, but has been taking all the necessary steps suggesting he will do so.

In his response to a questionnaire by Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, he said:

“While the US 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.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko criticised Mr DeSantis’s comments and tweeted his invitation to the Republican governor on Tuesday.

“We are sure that as a former military officer deployed to a combat zone, Governor Ron DeSantis knows the difference between a ‘dispute’ and war,” Mr Nikolenko said.

“We invite him to visit Ukraine to get a deeper understanding of Russia’s full-scale invasion and the threats it poses to US interests.”

While studying law at Harvard University, Mr DeSantis was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy and was assigned to its legal arm, the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. His service as a JAG officer included working with detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, as well as an assignment as a legal adviser for elite US Navy Seals deployed to Iraq.

Fellow Republicans were not impressed with Mr DeSantis’s comments, either.

South Carolina Senator and Trump-ally Lindsey Graham said the comments displayed “a misunderstanding of the situation” on the part of the governor.

“This is not a territorial conflict, it’s a war of aggression. To say it doesn’t matter is to say war crimes don’t matter,” Mr Graham said.

Senator Thom Tillis said the conflict wasn’t confined to Ukraine. “There’s a humanitarian crisis. There are war crimes being committed.”

And Senator John Thune thought “the majority of people in this country recognise how important it is that Ukraine repel Russia”.

President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022, saying Russia was intent on fighting Nazis in Ukraine.

His forces have razed entire cities and Russian troops are accused of numerous war crimes, which they deny.

Politicians from both parties in Congress have voted in favour of Western support for Ukraine, approving more than $112bn (£92.47bn) in 2022 alone.

The US is the largest contributor to Ukraine in terms of money spent – and the aid is extensive.

The US pays for drones, tanks, missiles and other munitions systems, as well as training, logistics and intelligence support.

Humanitarian aid has included food assistance, safe drinking water, medical supplies and other necessities for Ukrainians displaced by the conflict. Financial aid keeps Ukraine’s government operating by paying civil servants, healthcare workers and teachers.

Chart showing largest donors of aid to Ukraine as percent of donor country GDP.
Image caption,

Largest donors of aid to Ukraine as percent of donor country GDP.
Credit: By Paulin Kola
BBC News

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