Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has reportedly sought to clear up his description of the Russia-Ukraine war as a “territorial dispute”, in the wake of a backlash from fellow Republicans.
The widely tipped 2024 White House contender said in a TV interview his remarks had been “mischaracterised”.
He also struck a tougher tone on Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian president a “war criminal”.
Recent opinion polls suggest Mr Trump has been gaining over Mr DeSantis.
The former president has been launching a sustained attack in recent weeks against his onetime political protege.
Mr DeSantis has kept tight-lipped on his rumoured plans to challenge Mr Trump for the Republican White House nomination.
Speaking to Piers Morgan Uncensored, the Florida governor was asked about his description earlier this month of the Russia-Ukraine war as a “territorial dispute”.
“Well, I think it’s been mischaracterised,” he said, according to a preview of the interview, which airs on Thursday.
The Florida governor – who won a landslide re-election last year – said his comment had referred only to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and the occupied Crimean peninsula.
“There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there,” the 44-year-old continued. “So, that’s some difficult fighting and that’s what I was referring to.”
“It wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that,” Mr DeSantis added, calling the notion that Moscow was justified in its attack “nonsense”.
“If I could snap my fingers, I’d give it back to Ukraine 100%,” the former congressman and ex-US Navy lawyer continued.
His “territorial dispute” remark prompted Ukraine to issue the governor an invitation to visit the war-torn country.
While the comment seemed to align the Florida governor with Mr Trump, who has opposed US support for Kyiv, it provoked criticism from hawkish Republican senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, drawing battle lines between the isolationist and establishment wings of the party.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump said on his Truth Social platform that Mr DeSantis had “crashed” in the polls, dismissing him as an “average governor”.
A Monmouth University opinion poll released on Tuesday indicated Mr Trump had a double-digit lead in the Republican primary contest, reversing Mr DeSantis’ recent gains.
Source : BBC