Former Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise trip to Ukraine on June 29 to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy amid the country’s ongoing war with Russia.
The move makes him the first Republican presidential hopeful to meet with the Ukrainian leader since the war began.
Pence made the trip with the Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse. In addition to his meeting with Zelenskyy, his agenda for the day included an update on local human rights violations, security briefings from Ukrainian officials, and visits to various sites to honor fallen Ukrainians.
“I believe America’s the leader of the free world,” Pence told NBC News in an exclusive interview. “But coming here just as a private citizen, being able to really see firsthand the heroism of the Ukrainian soldiers holding the line in those woods, see the heroism of the people here in Irpin that held back the Russian army, to see families whose homes were literally shelled in the midst of an unconscionable and unprovoked Russian invasion just steels my resolve to do my part, to continue to call for strong American support for our Ukrainian friends and allies.”
The visit, he said, has “made me better equipped to be able to go home as I speak to the American people about the vital importance of American support to repel Russian aggression.”
Pence’s stance on the war sets him at odds with a significant portion of his party.
According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the United States is providing too much aid to Ukraine. The results mark a 4 percent bump from January and a staggering 35 percent increase from March 2022, just after the war began.
By contrast, just 14 percent of Democrats today are skeptical of the amount of aid provided. Among the overall population, the portion is 28 percent.
When asked in another NBC interview about the growing discontent among his fellow Republicans, Pence stressed that the issue was “bigger than politics.”
“I really do believe that if Vladimir Putin and the Russian military were able to overrun Ukraine, it wouldn’t be too long before they crossed the border, where our men and women in uniform would be required to go and fight,” he said. “And frankly, the second half of the 21st century could look a lot like the first half of the 20th century. I think we stand with the Ukrainian military here, give them what they need.”
Adding that he feels the current moment is one that “calls for leadership,” the candidate said that was one of the reasons he decided to enter the presidential race.
“I really believe that now, more than ever, our nation needs leaders that will speak plainly with the people about the challenges that we face around the world and at home and brings real clear leadership built on our timeless principles to bear.”
While other Republicans have complained that the current administration has been too quick to send billions in financial and military aid overseas, Pence said his concern has been the opposite.
“I believe the Biden administration’s been slow in providing the military support to the Ukraine, and I frankly heard that today in meeting with officials, security officials,” he said.
The administration, he said, was slow-walking the provision of Abrams tanks to the war-torn country and “dragging [its] feet” on approving the transfer of F-16s from NATO allies.
But even so, he added that he did not believe the United States should send troops to Ukraine.
“We don’t need to—I heard it again from President Zelenskyy today. He said, ‘We’re not asking for American troops, and we don’t them. … What we need is ammunition; what we need is support.’”
The goal, Pence stressed, was to provide enough support to prevent Putin from also invading a neighboring NATO ally—a situation that, under the treaty, would require the United States to send troops.
‘A Big Mess’
Pence’s trip comes on the heels of the Wagner mercenary group’s short-lived mutiny against the Russian state after months of escalating tensions amid the fighting in Ukraine.
On June 23, at the direction of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group seized the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and sent troops advancing toward Moscow. The next day, however, the march was abruptly called off as Alexander Lukashenko, the president of neighboring Belarus, stepped in to negotiate the peace.
As part of that deal, Prigozhin and those loyal to him were exiled to Belarus.
Commenting on the conflict via Truth Social, former President Donald Trump called the situation “a big mess.”
“A big mess in Russia, but be careful what you wish for,” he wrote. “Next in may be far worse!”
The 45th president has repeatedly said that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine on his watch. He has also held that, if given the chance, he could end the conflict in just 24 hours.
In a June 19 interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, he reiterated those claims, adding that he had previously warned Putin that there would be “hell to pay” if he invaded Ukraine.
“I thought he might do it,” Trump said. “Look, I talked to him. I said, ‘If you do it, there’s going to be hell to pay. It’s going to be a catastrophe. Don’t do it.’”
Putin, he added, had been skeptical that he would make good on his promise.
“He said, ‘No, no, no, you will not do that.’ I said, ‘I will, Vladimir, I will do it. I’m going to do it.’”
Point of Contention
Opinions on the Ukraine war vary amongst the crowded Republican presidential primary field.
Trump, the leading GOP candidate, has said he hopes for a peaceful resolution to end the loss of life on both sides.
In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shared a similar perspective, telling then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he had no interest in “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia.” After receiving backlash for those comments, he later clarified his stance, calling Putin a “war criminal” and stressing that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “was wrong.”
Others, like former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, are more aligned with Pence’s position.
“This is bigger than just a war on Ukraine and Russia; this is a war for freedom, and it’s one that we have to win,” Haley said at a May 24 town hall in Rye, New Hampshire. Like Pence, she also stressed that U.S. troops should not be sent to fight in the conflict.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expressed a similar view earlier this week, pointing to the quelled rebellion in Russia as a sign of Putin’s “weakness” at home and that the war might be resolved soon.
“I think you have to watch this very carefully, but we have to continue to support Ukraine,” Christie said. “We have to give them the weapons they need to fight their battle against the Russians and to repel them.”
Backing Ukraine, he contended, could kill two threats with one stone.
“This is the first fight in the proxy war with China,” he said. “China is funding this war for Russia by buying Russian oil. … We do not want a world that is dominated by communist China. And so, this is a fight that America needs to have.
“At the end of this sacrifice, I am absolutely a believer in the fact that America will be bigger, stronger, richer, and more influential in the world because we stood by our principles and stood by our friends.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times