EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was “taking the Chinese position” on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when the potential Republican 2024 contender called the war a “territorial dispute.”
During an interview with Fox News Digital on Friday, the South Carolina lawmaker and military veteran was asked whether he was concerned about the current front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination — DeSantis, who is expected to announce a White House bid, and former President Donald Trump, who already has — both having a more skeptical position of the current level of U.S. aid to Ukraine than more establishment members of their party.
“Governor DeSantis, who I respect, is basically taking the Chinese position when it comes to Russia’s invasion,” Graham said.
“China calls this a territorial dispute. This is not a territorial dispute. This is an invasion of a sovereign democracy by [Vladimir Putin’s] Russia, barbaric in nature.”
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He added that DeSantis “has got much to be proud of as governor,” but said, “I think any Republican that goes down the Biden road of trying to, you know, go weak in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is inviting more aggression.”
Graham said of Trump, who he’s already endorsed for 2024, “If he got to be president again — I really do believe Putin wouldn’t have invaded on his watch — but I’ve told President Trump that if you don’t see a nexus between China going after Taiwan, and Russia going into Ukraine, you’re not watching very closely.”
DeSantis had said that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” was not “vital” to U.S. interests in a response to a questionnaire by Tucker Carlson. He argued, “The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges.”
He also accused President Joe Biden of having “driven Russia into a de facto alliance with China” and bolstering “Putin’s war machine” with his renewable energy policies. Fox News Digital has reached out to DeSantis’ office for comment.
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Beijing has not taken an overt public stance against Ukraine. But Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid concerns that China could begin arming Russia, has raised alarms within the global community.
In the U.S., there is a growing rift within the GOP between those who are increasingly tired of watching the federal government send billions in foreign aid, and more establishment members of the party who argue that helping Ukraine stave off Russia’s illegal invasion is vital to upholding international stability.
Graham, one of the loudest voices in Congress in favor of more aid to Kyiv, said it was the U.S.’s duty to “expose” Xi and Putin ahead of their upcoming meeting.
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“China is a communist dictatorship. Putin is one of the most notorious foreign criminals of the 21st century,” Graham said. “It’s an axis of evil in its own way, when you throw Iran in there.”
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“But what I would do is just really put pressure on China to not help Russia militarily, because that extends to war. And I would label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism — that makes it more difficult for China to help Russia.”
Graham went a step further earlier in the interview, now pledging to “stop business as usual” until Russia was named a terrorist state, in light of Putin’s recent war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.
“I am going to go all in, stop business as usual on the Senate floor, to make the point that we need to label… Russia state a sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law,” the senator said. “It would make Putin’s Russian state radioactive — more than it is today. It would put him in the category of… Iran, Syria, North Korea.”