DeSantis Defends Trump’s Record on Russia, Rejects Putin ‘Lackey’ Attacks

DeSantis Defends Trump’s Record on Russia, Rejects Putin ‘Lackey’ Attacks
Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis (R) sits next to President Donald Trump during a meeting with Governors elects in the Cabinet Room at the White House on Dec. 13, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Ryan Morgan

Republican Florida governor and 2024 Republican presidential nominee Ron DeSantis defended former President Donald Trump against allegations he is serving the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The idea that Trump is some type of lackey for Putin—that’s just false,” Mr. DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.

Throughout his political tenure, President Trump has faced claims he is either compromised by Mr. Putin or otherwise steering U.S. policy in a way that benefits the Putin government. While Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump are competing for the Republican presidential nomination and have traded barbs throughout the presidential race thus far, Mr. DeSantis defended his primary opponent against these Russia allegations.

Fox News host Howard Kurtz specifically noted Mr. Putin had criticized the various criminal indictments against President Trump. Mr. Kurtz posed the possibility that this comment might be part of an effort to ingratiate himself with President Trump, should the 45th president return to the White House.

"Vladimir Putin agrees with Donald Trump that he's being persecuted by a rival for political reasons," Mr. Kurtz said. "Don't you worry that if Donald Trump gets back in the White House, he'll stop U.S. aid to Ukraine and let Putin keep the territory he's already captured?"

Mr. DeSantis, in response, defended President Trump's record on Russia and Ukraine when he was in office.

“He had a very, very strong Russia policy. He actually provided a lot of support, defensive support, for Ukraine," Mr. DeSantis said. "And so I think the idea that somehow he wants to be buddy-buddy with Putin—I know there’s circles that say that—but I don’t really see that as being the case. I think he’s been strong.”

President Trump has signaled he would seek a different approach to addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, claiming he would quickly sue for peace and could negotiate an end to the conflict within 24 hours of taking the White House. President Trump has also threatened to step up U.S. support for Ukraine if Mr. Putin refuses peace negotiations.
Mr. DeSantis has also signaled he might break with the Biden-era policy of supplying Ukraine forces with arms in their fight against Russian forces. Mr. DeSantis has said arming Ukraine is not a vital component of U.S. foreign policy, and that he would prefer a settlement to the conflict. At the first Republican presidential debate last month, Mr. DeSantis said additional U.S. support to the Ukrainian side should be contingent on European countries committing more of their own support to Ukraine.

2024 Candidates Divided on Ukraine

U.S. support for Ukraine has become one of the major issues dividing the field of 2024 presidential candidates.

Many Republican presidential candidates have urged even greater support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

President Trump's former running mate, Mike Pence, has said that if Russian forces take Ukraine, they could target a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and set off a conflict that requires the direct involvement of U.S. military personnel.

"I’m convinced that if the Ukrainian military doesn’t stop and repel that Russian invasion, it’s not going to be too long before that Russian army crosses a border that our men and women in uniform are going to have to go and fight under our NATO Treaty," Mr. Pence said in a town hall-style interview last week.

Mr. Pence said continued U.S. support for the Ukrainian side will help repel Russian forces and prevent a wider conflict between NATO and Russia. He has also said repelling Russian forces in Ukraine will also help dissuade China from attempting to assert control over Taiwan.

At the August Republican presidential debate, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also claimed that Russia could attack Poland or nations in the Baltics if he seizes control of Ukraine.

Like President Trump and Mr. DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has indicated he would prefer a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. During the August Republican debate, Mr. Ramaswamy said he would oppose additional U.S. aid to the Ukrainian side. He also argued that the U.S. stance toward Russia is only driving Mr. Putin toward an alliance with China.

"We are driving Russia further into China’s hands," Mr. Ramaswamy said. "The Russia-China alliance is the single greatest threat we face."

Trump 'Not the Best Way to Go Forward': DeSantis

In addition to defending President Trump's record on Russia and Ukraine, Mr. DeSantis also criticized the criminal indictments against the former president.

Describing his reasons for now challenging President Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Mr. DeSantis did not focus on policy differences but rather concerns about voter perception.

"I thought [President Trump] should have taken credit for the good things he did but recognize he was not the best way to go forward and win and unite the country behind our America First policies," Mr. DeSantis told Fox News. "I think you look at the voters, he's definitely got a base, but there are voters who are gettable for Republicans who don't like what Biden's doing, they disapprove of all this stuff, but they just won't do with Trump."

Mr. DeSantis expressed disappointment with the Republican Party's performance in the 2022 midterms and argued that their performance was indicative of the problem. While defending President Trump against the substance of his various criminal cases, Mr. DeSantis warned that the legal proceedings will make it more difficult for Republicans to make the 2024 election a referendum on President Joe Biden's performance in office.

President Trump currently leads the Republican field in terms of support from Republican Party voters. Mr. DeSantis holds a distance second place in most Republican primary polls, trailing the former president by about 44 percentage points across the RealClearPolitics polling average.

NTD News reached out to the Trump campaign for a response to Mr. DeSantis's remarks. The campaign did not respond by the time this article was published.