Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny against his military superiors and Russian President Vladimir Putin is beginning to feel an ocean away in the US Republican primary race.
Former Vice President Mike Pence visited Volodomyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, NBC News reported Thursday, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pence’s visit is the highest-profile endorsement of Zelenskyy yet by a Republican presidential candidate and an attempt to contrast his stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict with that of the two leading candidates, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, who have he has been much more elusive in publicly choosing sides.
“I truly believe that now, more than ever, we need leaders in our country who articulate the importance of American leadership in the world.” Pence told NBC.
In a presidential primary season in which Republican candidates other than Trump and DeSantis have had a hard time drawing attention, promoting support for Ukraine can provide a way for candidates to highlight their differences with the leading candidates, as well as to polish his national security credentials.
“I truly believe that now, more than ever, we need leaders in our country who articulate the importance of American leadership in the world.”
– Former Vice President Mike Pence
And with Ukraine beginning its long-awaited counter-offensive and Putin looking weak after a mutiny by one of his own commanders, it also gives the candidates a chance to be seen backing the potentially winning side.
Pence’s visit came on the heels of the biggest public fissure yet in Putin’s 23 years in power after Prigozhin’s Wagner Group of private military contractors shot down several Russian planes during an aborted flight to Moscow on Saturday. Prigozhin withdrew after reaching a still-mysterious deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
While Putin remains in power, the fact that Prigozhin has been able to publicly defy him and live to tell about it, along with Putin’s public campaign since then to show he is in control, has cheered Ukraine and its allies in Washington, and has created an opportunity for the Republican Party’s presidential hopefuls to discuss their positions on US involvement.
How much the US should get involved in the conflict has been a pressing question ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, its neighbor and US ally, sending more military, humanitarian and economic aid. on top of the $71 billion committed so far.
The mutiny has underscored Putin’s weakness as well as the need to provide weapons Ukraine has asked for, such as F-16 fighters and ATACMS long-range missiles, said William Taylor, who was ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
“We have seen how fragile, brittle the Russian army is, the Russian system. So now is the time to provide these weapons,” he told HuffPost on Wednesday.
Taylor said providing the missile systems could help end the war as early as this summer. “Let them win, but more than that, it’s helping them win. And helping means giving them what they need.”
Former President Trump and Florida Governor DeSantis have downplayed the need to send more aid. Trump has often bragged that he got along with Putin while he was in office and initially described Putin’s invasion. as showing “genius”.”
Although Trump has not made official comments specifically about the mercenary leader’s mutiny or Putin’s future, as it was happening, he posted on his social media site that it was “a big mess” and that Putin’s opponents should be “careful what they say.” wish. ”
“The next one can be much worse!” he awareincluding an apparent typo.
trump has been is not willing to call Putin a war criminaldespite vast evidence of war crimes and atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, and has said that a peace deal could be negotiated by allow Russia to keep part of the conquered Ukrainian territory. Before the invasion, he was Charged with trying to withhold aid to Ukraine unless its leaders announced an investigation of Biden, then his Democratic rival for the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has been ambiguous on Ukraine since March, when he said the war, the biggest in Europe since World War II, was a mere “territorial dispute” that was not in the vital US interest. So he walked that assessment back after criticism.
“The next one can be much worse!”
– Former President Donald Trump, in a post on his social media site about Vladimir Putin
However, other candidates have been outspoken about the need to help Ukraine defend itself.
“It is unfortunate, the two leading Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, (their) Ukraine policy is wrong,” one of the newer Republican candidates, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, said last Sunday on “ This Week With George Stephanopoulos.
“I wish they would stop fighting with American companies like Disney and be more interested in supporting our allies against attacks, against democracy,” Hurd added, in a slight against DeSantis’ legal battle for control of Disney World in Orlando by from the entertainment company.
Pence and Hurd are not the only ones expressing their support for Ukraine. Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former US ambassador to the United Nations, said at a CNN town hall on June 4 that “what we have to understand is that a victory for Ukraine is a victory for all of us.”
Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and another 2024 presidential candidate, said Monday in a interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he was in favor of giving Ukraine the weapons it needs, adding that DeSantis and Trump “basically want to give Ukraine away.”
Polls show declining support among Republicans for Ukraine, even as support among the general population has remained relatively strong, and may even have spiked after the Prigozhin mutiny.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after the riot ended found that 65% of respondents supported arming Ukrainea sharp increase of 19 percentage points since a survey in May.
However, Republicans had the lowest level of support at 56%, compared to Independents at 57% and Democrats at 81%.