After calling the Russia-Ukraine war a 'territorial dispute,' DeSantis says Putin is a 'war criminal' and 'basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons'
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the Russia-Ukraine war a "territorial dispute" last week.
When asked about the comment, DeSantis said Russia's invasion was "wrong" and Putin was a "war criminal."
Piers Morgan's interview with DeSantis, a potential 2024 candidate, is set to air Thursday.
After drawing criticism from fellow Republicans last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis used some of his harshest words yet for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with Piers Morgan that is set to air on Fox Nation Thursday, DeSantis called Putin a "war criminal" and said he should be "held accountable," according to excerpts of the interview published in the New York Post.
"I think he's hostile to the United States, but I think the thing that we've seen is he doesn't have the conventional capability to realize his ambitions," DeSantis said of Putin. "And so, he's basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons and one of the things we could be doing better is utilizing our own energy resources in the US."
DeSantis, considered a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, said the way to impact Putin was through energy, such as by permitting natural gas pipelines in Alaska. The comment echoed a remark made by the late Republican Sen. John McCain, who in 2014 from the Senate floor said Russia was "a gas station masquerading as a country." GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham agreed, calling Russia "an oil and gas company."
DeSantis's comments come after he downplayed the US interest in the war, referring to it as a "territorial dispute" between Russia and Ukraine.
"While the US has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness with 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 said in a statement to Fox News.
Since Russia invaded in February of last year, the US has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars of military aid, which has had bipartisan support. Republicans like Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio rebuked DeSantis's characterization of the war.
When asked about his "territorial dispute" comment, DeSantis told Morgan his words had been "mischaracterized," adding that "obviously" Russia invaded last year, as well as Crimea in 2014, and was "wrong" to do so.
"What I'm referring to is where the fighting is going on now which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea," DeSantis explained, adding he could've clarified that's what he was referring to.
DeSantis added: "I think the larger point is, okay, Russia is not showing the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO. That's a good thing. I just don't think that's a sufficient interest for us to escalate more involvement."
He said the idea that he thought Russia was "justified" in invading Ukraine was "nonsense."
A representative for DeSantis did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.
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