(OSV News) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Catholic Republican widely seen as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has called for a “ceasefire” between Russia and Ukraine in an April 25 interview with Nikkei Asia, which he said was “in everybody’s interest.”
DeSantis is currently in Japan to promote that nation’s trade with Florida, and his remarks come at a time when Ukraine is getting ready to launch a much-expected counteroffensive to regain its territory from Russia.
DeSantis contrasted the significant U.S. military aid provided to Ukraine with that supplied by other nations, saying “Europeans really need to do more” — particularly Germany, which he claimed is “not doing anything” — since the war is taking place on “their continent.”
Germany authorized nations to transfer their own German-made Leopard II main battle tanks — considered among the best tanks in the West — to Ukraine in January, as well as transfers of the older Leopard I tanks. The move is considered a gamechanger for Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive. The German government in March announced its own transfer of 18 Leopard 2s to Ukraine and authorized 12 billion euros ($13.01 billion) of new military spending for Ukraine.
DeSantis blamed “foreign policy elites” for “(doing) things without having a concrete objective in mind,” while referencing one of World War I’s bloodiest and most protracted battles to warn of a “(Battle of) Verdun situation where you just have mass casualties, mass expense and end up with a stalemate.”
Ceasefire remarks drew sharp rebukes from U.S. Catholic college leaders
However, the remarks drew sharp rebukes from leaders at a U.S. Catholic college with deep roots in the Ukrainian global community.
“Verdun was horrible, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the circumstances in Ukraine,” Nicholas Rudnytzky, professor of history and dean of academic services at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, told OSV News. Rudnytzky said DeSantis’ remarks as a whole reflected a “provincial” approach to foreign relations that denies “as the world has gotten smaller, we are our brother’s keeper.”
Founded by the Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great, Manor College has long fostered Ukrainian heritage and spirituality, and has served as a locus of broad support for Ukraine throughout the full-scale Russian invasion that began in 2022 and continues attacks begun in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea, and the backing of separatist factions in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“Ukraine is fighting for its existence as a nation,” Rudnytzky said.
“Russia invaded Ukraine in an act of barbarism, and … (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has flatly stated Ukraine should not exist,” he added.
Russia has committed war crimes, violations of religious freedom
Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia is estimated to have committed some 66,000 war crimes, prompting Ukraine to file charges of genocide with the International Court of Justice.
More than 19,300 Ukrainian children have been abducted by Russia over the past year, according to Ukraine’s government. In an April 9 report, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War assessed Russia is “committing gross violations of religious freedom” in Ukraine.
In an April 26 statement emailed to OSV News, Manor president Jonathan Peri said “there is a core moral tug that every informed citizen of this nation feels” regarding the war in Ukraine.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a threat to worldwide civil society and must be addressed comprehensively,” said Peri. “Whether a bully strong-arms in the school yard, or grows up to be the global manifestation of evil incarnate, the fortitude to respond appropriately is essential to long-term security.”
Leaders need to remain steadfast
Peri added that leaders need to remain steadfast in countering Russia’s aggression.
“When our politicians flounder, they invite evil to prevail,” he said.
Sound bites such as the Verdun analogy, which invoke vivid but generally uncontextualized images, do not make for sound historical reasoning, said Rudnytzky.
He added that until quite recently, “politicians, speech writers and American scholarship in general” have favored “Russian models” of Ukraine’s history, which have consistently “denied Ukraine’s (sovereign and cultural) existence for centuries.”
In addition, said Rudnytzky, such references often conveniently overlook more recent historical developments, including the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The agreement saw Ukraine voluntarily forfeit its nuclear arsenal — the third largest in the world at the time — in exchange for pledges by the U.S., United Kingdom, and Russia “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders or Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine.
“We have to do whatever we can to help Ukraine regain its borders, as Russia itself guaranteed in the Budapest Memorandum,” he said. “Then the guns can go silent. … Doing the right thing for a long time is very difficult, but we have to keep the faith.”
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Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.