SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis do not grasp the broader implications of their call for limited military assistance to Ukraine, former Vice President Mike Pence told The Associated Press in Iowa Wednesday.
“With all due respect, I think the former president and the governor of Florida just don’t understand Americans' national interest in supporting the Ukrainian military in repelling the Russian military in Ukraine," Pence, who is competing with Trump and DeSantis for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said during the interview before a campaign event in Sioux City.
Pence, who visited Ukraine last week, said, “Make no mistake, China is watching."
Pence, who has called for robust aid to the Ukrainian military, said the United States' commitment to keeping Russia in check signals its willingness to also hold China's military ambitions in check in Asia.
Trump has said opposing Russia in its invasion of Ukraine is not a vital American national strategic interest. DeSantis has said “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of" the United States' vital national interests.
Pence, reflecting the consensus of Republican candidates for president, does not support U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine.
But the percentage of Americans who say the U.S. is providing too much military aid to Ukraine has steadily grown, driven by Republicans, since the war began in 2022, according to a Pew Research Center survey published last month.
According to the poll, 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the U.S. was providing too much military aid to Ukraine, up from 40% and the highest mark since Russia's invasion in February 2022.
In describing his trip to Ukrainian villages attacked early in the war, Pence described what he said was a mass grave that included bodies of “more than 500 unarmed civilians who were gunned down in the streets. Men, women and children."
“I think we need to stand firm, stand strong,” Pence said in the interview. “I’m going to do that, while others may be giving way to a more populist sentiment.”
Pence spent his time in Kyiv and the surrounding areas, far from the eastern front line where Ukrainian forces for the past several weeks have been probing for weak points in the Russian defenses.
But Pence said now is exactly the time to provide tanks and other equipment, as the Ukrainians embark on a counteroffensive Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described as aimed at liberating areas occupied by Russia.
“I mean, we’re in the we’re in the heat of the fighting season. Ukrainians are making progress,” Pence said. “I really believe we ought to pay heed to the first half of the 20th century.”
“If we don’t stand apart, if we don’t give the Ukrainian military what they need to defeat and repel the Russian invasion, I’m convinced that the second half of the 21st century will look a great deal more like the first half of the 20th century.”