Editorial: DeSantis’ Ukraine comment is reckless. It’s an invasion, not a ‘territorial dispute’

A man with dark hair, in a dark suit and blue tie, extends his hand toward people applauding
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets donors before speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on March 5, 2023.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Although he hasn’t yet publicly announced his candidacy for president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to challenge Donald Trump in next year’s Republican primaries. But so far, DeSantis has been more of an echo of the former president than an alternative.

Not only has DeSantis aped Trump’s stoking of cultural resentments with his overheated attacks on “wokeness,” but now he is also flirting with Trump’s “America first” approach to foreign policy. Responding to a questionnaire from Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, DeSantis questioned the importance of U.S. support for Ukraine, the victim of an unprovoked and brutal invasion by Russia.

“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.


Biden is right to assure Ukraine that the U.S. will stand with it for “as long as it takes,” and if it’s possible to expedite military assistance he should do so. That doesn’t mean the U.S. and its allies shouldn’t be cognizant of the possibility that Putin might overreact.

Feb. 9, 2023

He also wrote: “The U.S. should not provide assistance that could require the deployment of American troops or enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders. F-16s and long-range missiles should therefore be off the table.”

DeSantis further castigated the Biden administration for a “virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes’ without any defined objectives or accountability.”

The administration has made it clear that it isn’t sending troops to fight in Ukraine. President Biden also has ruled out providing F-16s for the time being. As for the objective of U.S. policy, Biden has explained that the goal is to assist Ukraine “so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.” Admittedly, there are questions about what a peace agreement might look like, but it’s unfair to accuse the administration of not identifying its aims.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of DeSantis’ comment was his dismissive description of the war in Ukraine as a mere “territorial dispute.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) aptly noted that the war in Ukraine is “not a territorial dispute ... any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas.” Equally important, allowing Moscow to conquer Ukraine could encourage aggressive acts by Russia against members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

DeSantis’ comments about Ukraine seem to place him closer to Trump’s position on the war. In response to Carlson’s question about whether opposing Russia in Ukraine is a vital U.S. strategic interest, Trump answered: “No, but it is for Europe. But not for the United States. That is why Europe should be paying far more than we are, or equal.”

Trump, of course, disparaged the NATO alliance before and after he became president. That isn’t a posture that DeSantis or any other would-be president should embrace.