Zelenskyy Questions US Presidential Candidates Calling for Ukraine Peace Deal: ‘Are They Ready to Go to War?’

Zelenskyy Questions US Presidential Candidates Calling for Ukraine Peace Deal: ‘Are They Ready to Go to War?’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy takes questions at a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on April 23, 2022. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a recent interview with NBC News, pushed back on comments from Republican politicians who are hesitant to keep bolstering Ukraine’s military against Russia.

Zelenskyy joined NBC News to talk about Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive and his requests for additional weapons and aircraft for Ukrainian forces. During the Thursday interview, NBC correspondent Richard Engel asked Zelenskyy to respond to Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’s characterization of the Ukraine-Russia conflict as a “territorial dispute” and fellow Republican candidate Donald Trump’s vow to quickly end the conflict and sue for peace between the two countries.

“If any candidate thinks supporting Ukraine is too costly, are they ready to go to war? Are they ready to fight? Send their children? Die?” Zelenskyy said. “They will have to do it anyway if NATO enters this war, and if Ukraine fails and Russia occupies us, they will move on to the Baltics or Poland or some other NATO country. And then the U.S. will have to choose between keeping NATO or entering the war.”

Zelenskyy said Ukraine continuing to fight is to the benefit of NATO nations like the United States.

“I wonder if those candidates realize the price Ukraine is paying in this war,” the Ukrainian president said.

Engel asked Zelenskyy whether he was worried if certain candidates winning the 2024 U.S. presidential election raised concerns for Ukraine.

“The American people will choose the most worthy president and we will support this choice. And that’s normal and fair,” Zelenskyy replied. “Of course some statements from representatives of specific groups and politicians calling for diminished support of Ukraine, yes that does worry us. I think that’s a big risk for Ukraine. It’s not the person at the top, it’s the change of policy we want to avoid. I believe that won’t happen.”

Trump, DeSantis, RFK Jr. Seek Ukraine Settlement

Rather than continuing to arm and fund Ukraine’s military, Trump and DeSantis have both called for a peaceful cessation of hostilities.

In a March response to a questionnaire from then Fox News host Tucker Carlson, DeSantis said the United States has many pressing national security concerns but “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them” and “peace should be the objective.”

Following his initial comments about Ukraine, DeSantis told Fox News host Piers Morgan that the Russian decision to invade Ukraine was “wrong” and labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” but stood by his position that the United States should not get further involved in the conflict.

DeSantis also questioned the idea that Russia poses a threat beyond Ukraine, chalking up Russia’s progress so far in the war to a “loss.”

“I do not think it’s going to end with Putin being victorious. I do not think the Ukrainian government is going to be toppled by him and I think that’s a good thing,” DeSantis told Morgan in March.

Last month, DeSantis again addressed the Ukraine-Russia conflict, reiterating calls for a peaceful settlement.

Trump has repeatedly called for a peaceful settlement to the conflict, including during a contentious town hall interview with CNN in May. When CNN host Kaitlin Collins asked whether he wants Ukraine to win the war, Trump said, “I think in terms of getting it settled so we [can] stop killing all these people—Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.”

During the CNN interview, Trump said he could bring about a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine within 24 hours. Trump also refused to call Putin a war criminal, saying that label “should be discussed later” but that doing so too soon would make it “a lot tougher to make a deal to make this thing stopped.”

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has also called for a peaceful conclusion to the war in Ukraine.

“We will offer to withdraw our troops and nuclear-capable missiles from Russia’s borders. Russia will withdraw its troops from Ukraine and guarantee its freedom and independence,” Kennedy’s campaign website states. “[United Nations] peacekeepers will guarantee peace to the Russian-speaking eastern regions [of Ukraine]. We will put an end to this war. We will put an end to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. That will be the start of a broader program of demilitarization of all countries.”

Trump’s 24-Hour Commitment

During his interview with NBC, Zelenskyy also questioned Trump’s claim that he could reach a peace agreement within 24 hours.

“I don’t think there’s a single person in this world who could convince Putin to end the war. I don’t believe that’s possible,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine and Russia have been at odds since at least 2014, when then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power. Yanukovych was on generally friendly terms with neighboring Russia, and pro-Russian Ukrainians in the eastern Donbas region sought to separate from Ukraine with support from Russia. Forces of the post-Yanukovych Ukrainian government have been involved in low-level fighting in the Donbas region since then. Putin cited a need to protect these pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as part of his reason for invading Ukraine in February of last year.

Prior to Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine had also given Russia access to the Crimean port of Sevastopol. After Yanukovych’s ouster, Russian forces annexed Crimea with relatively minimal resistance.

While relatively low-level fighting between separatists and Ukrainian government forces continued in the Donbas region throughout his presidency, Trump has said Russia would not have invaded Ukraine the way it did in February of last year had he still been in office.

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