The main competitor of Trump: what can Ukraine expect from Ron DeSantis?

The competition for the position of President of the United States within the Republican Party camp has finally become more interesting.

After several far from popular figures, Ron DeSantis officially announced his participation in the fight for the party’s nomination. DeSantis is a relatively young (44 years old) governor of Florida, who was already considered an alternative to Donald Trump after the midterm elections in November 2022.

DeSantis hesitated for a long time whether to start his campaign or not, and in just six months, he lost his rating advantage over the former President of the United States. According to various polls, the former President leads him by over 30%.

Furthermore, the race got off to a rocky start. DeSantis was supposed to announce his candidacy for the presidential position during a conversation with Elon Musk on the Twitter Spaces platform, but it experienced technical difficulties, with the sound constantly cutting out. Moreover, the American media reported his candidacy a few hours before the broadcast, noticing that DeSantis had already filed the necessary documents with the Federal Election Commission of the United States.

European Pravda (media outlet) extensively described Ron DeSantis’s journey from a working-class background to becoming a star among Republicans last year. But now, as a potential competitor in the presidential elections in the United States, he is primarily of interest for his views on foreign policy, particularly regarding Russia and Ukraine.

An anti-communist and isolationist

The position of governor in the United States inherently does not involve active foreign policy engagement. However, DeSantis had such experience from 2017 to 2019 when he served as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs before his victory in Florida.

As the governor of Florida, DeSantis spoke extensively about Latin America, which is not surprising considering that the state has the largest community of Cuban Americans in the United States and is a primary destination for Cuban immigrants.

As expected, DeSantis criticized the Cuban communist regime and expressed support for the short-lived anti-government protests that erupted in Cuba in 2021. He also faced criticism from Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.

When the number of Cuban migrants sharply increased in Florida, the governor, in stark contrast to the less decisive administration of Joe Biden, deployed the National Guard to detain and repel the migrants.

When DeSantis effectively began his pre-election campaign in the spring of 2023 by embarking on a tour to present his memoirs, he gradually started revealing his views on US foreign policy.

For instance, his tough stance on China is quite typical of the traditional “Reaganite” wing of the Republican Party. Similarly, DeSantis criticizes the authoritarian regimes of Iran and North Korea, although he previously supported Donald Trump’s meeting with dictator Kim Jong Un.

Furthermore, it is not surprising that DeSantis expresses support for Israel, which is a classic position among politicians.

In March, he made his visit to Israel (for the fourth time as a politician), where he delivered a passionate speech in support of the Jewish State and symbolically signed a law against antisemitism.

He also opposes boycotts of Israeli companies due to their treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories and maintains a skeptical stance on the prospects of a peace agreement between the parties.

Furthermore, DeSantis’s foreign policy rhetoric has not strayed far from Trumpian isolationism.

He has long been an advocate against US military interventions in other countries (we will come back to this point): as early as 2013, he criticized then-President Barack Obama’s request to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

See also: American dressing room of Putin: by whom Russian propagandists are pretended to be in the US and who are entangled in their networks

DeSantis opposed military support for factions fighting against Bashar al-Assad, explaining that he believed “our interests cannot be advanced by relying on them.”

In his memoirs, aptly titled “Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” DeSantis elaborates further on his views on foreign policy.

He sharply criticizes the foreign policy of George W. Bush, which he describes as “Wilsonianism on steroids.” This refers to US President Woodrow Wilson, who during World War I made the decision to intervene in the war in Europe and later proposed the establishment of the first international organization.

“Does the survival of American freedom really depend on whether that freedom succeeds in Djibouti?” DeSantis ironically asks in his book.

Support for Ukraine, but with nuances

Such rhetoric could not fail to reflect on the politician’s views on Ukraine and Russia, though their evolution is equally intriguing.

Back in 2014-2015, during Obama’s presidency, DeSantis actively supported Ukraine and criticized Russia for its illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea as a member of the United States House of Representatives.

He even referred to the so-called Crimean referendum as a “farce.”

So, in March of 2014, DeSantis expressed support for the Ukrainians who resisted the Russian occupation of the peninsula. That same year, he supported a resolution calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, and he also voted in favor of providing military assistance and imposing anti-Russian sanctions.

In 2015, DeSantis supported an amendment that called for freezing funding for the implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (the same treaty that Russia recently “suspended”) until Moscow ends the occupation of Ukraine (Obama vetoed the amendment at the time).

Additionally, the Republican politician co-sponsored a resolution calling for free elections in Ukraine and addressing the repression in Crimea.

He directly called for providing Ukraine with “offensive and defensive weapons,” which the President refused to do due to the risk of escalation with Russia. Regarding the latter, DeSantis advocated for a tough policy in a Reaganite style (it was Ronald Reagan who famously referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” and consigned communism to the ash heap of history).

“I think Obama’s policy of weakness actually increases the risk of a larger conflict. If we had Reagan’s policy of strength, figures like Putin wouldn’t dare to joke with us,” DeSantis expressed his views on the war in Ukraine and Russia in 2015.

Fast-forwarding seven years ahead. On the fifth day of the full-scale Russian invasion, DeSantis expressed support for the resistance of the Ukrainian people while simultaneously criticizing Biden for rolling back Trump’s energy initiatives, which led to Europe becoming dependent on Russian energy resources and unable to “hit (Putin) where it hurts.”

However, in March, when his presidential candidacy was being discussed as a done deal, DeSantis suddenly referred to the war as a “territorial dispute” that does not involve “vital national interests of the United States.”

And sending modern weapons, such as F-16 fighters and long-range missiles, “risks dragging the United States into the conflict and bringing us closer to a hot phase of war between the two largest nuclear powers in the world.”

Was this a change of views or an attempt to appeal to Trump’s voters?

Such questions are being asked more frequently now.

Later, under pressure from fellow party members, DeSantis noticeably recalibrated his rhetoric, stating that he supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine (“I would 100% return the territories to Ukraine if I could snap my fingers”), considers Putin a war criminal, and views Russia as a “gas station with a pile of nuclear weapons.”

However, the following month, he began to emphasize the need for a “ceasefire” in Ukraine – another harmful message that Ukrainians rightly consider as a pretext for freezing the full-scale war.

The only consistent message from the politician, supported by the current US administration, is the impossibility of sending American troops to Ukraine (although this is not being discussed in the context of further military assistance to Kyiv).

What prompted DeSantis to abandon “Reaganism” and partially embrace “Trumpism”?

Primarily, DeSantis is a typical supporter of the Republican Party, whose increasing number of voters believe that the United States provides “too much” assistance to Ukraine. The influence of Donald Trump on the political force has not waned as Democrats had hoped after Joe Biden’s victory. Consequently, DeSantis’s messages regarding Ukraine have increasingly leaned towards “Trumpism,” particularly when it comes to Ukraine.

See also: Is the Truman Doctrine still relevant today?

Furthermore, there is an amusing detail: immediately after announcing his candidacy, DeSantis was asked, given his military experience, how he envisions resolving the war in Ukraine. His response was: “I will eradicate gender ideology in the military.”

Toxic acquaintances

Another alarming signal is that some of DeSantis’s actions push the notion that a “business as usual” approach is not exclusive to Donald Trump.

Early on during the full-scale invasion, Florida Democrats called on DeSantis to divest $300 million, taken from the state’s pension fund, from Russian companies, including Sberbank and Rosneft.

The governor argued that it would harm the financial interests of the investors, and while he could not unilaterally make such a decision, other states expressed at least a willingness to sever ties with toxic Russian businesses.

Another episode of questionable connections between DeSantis and Russia also brings Trump to mind.

In 2019, it became known that DeSantis’s campaign received a $50,000 donation from businessmen of Ukrainian origin, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were closely associated with Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who sought to influence the Ukrainian government for investigations against Biden (although DeSantis later stated that he returned the donations).

While the Republican claimed that he did not maintain any special relationships with Parnas and Fruman, Parnas himself shared his correspondence with Reuters, which proves otherwise.

Currently, the convicted businessman claims that it was through him that the then-potential candidate for Florida governor in 2018 sought to secure Trump’s endorsement in the election. This was not coincidental, as he was lagging behind Democrat Andrew Gillum in the polls at the time.

The extent to which DeSantis desperately needed Trump’s approval is evidenced by his campaign ad at the time, where he even dressed his toddler son in diapers with the slogan “Make America Great Again!”

The collaboration between DeSantis and Parnas proved successful.

In particular, they met several times, discussed donors, Parnas introduced DeSantis to Giuliani, and the latter influenced Trump to support the young politician.

And then the Russian businessman Andrei Muravyov enters the scene, who was charged by US prosecutors with illegal campaign financing of one million dollars for the purpose of lobbying for the cannabis cultivation business.

Although DeSantis and Muravyov never met in person (although such a meeting was actually planned), the future Florida governor discussed cannabis legalization in the state in conversations with Parnas. And after DeSantis’s victory, Muravyov — in another peculiar coincidence — wrote to Parnas and Fruman, congratulating them “on the victory.”

After winning the election, communication between DeSantis and Parnas almost completely ceased, and the businessman, who is now convicted of campaign finance violations, is reportedly resentful towards the Florida governor whom he once called “his friend.”

The Florida governor’s circle is very reluctant to comment on this matter, and as far as the investigation is concerned, there is no indication that DeSantis was involved. Muravyov is currently in hiding somewhere in Russia.

What can be said with certainty about Ron DeSantis is that neither his chances of securing the nomination for the presidential elections nor his foreign policy views are fully defined.

Perhaps his current rhetoric is simply a competition for Trump’s electorate, especially against the backdrop of declining internal party ratings.

It cannot be ruled out that by the start of the primaries in 2024, DeSantis will gain a better understanding of the situation surrounding Ukraine and revert to Reaganism to provide military support to Kyiv.

However, it is possible that we still have insufficient knowledge about this presidential candidate.

In particular, Donald Trump promised last year to reveal something about DeSantis that is not very flattering and that almost no one knows about.

Originally posted by Oleg Pavliuk on European Pravda. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Budapest Memorandum, or who betrayed Ukraine


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