AUSTIN (KXAN) — Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke Friday afternoon in Austin to mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, sharing his support for additional assistance for the war-torn country and criticizing American leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Pence began his remarks at the University of Texas at Austin campus by praising the Ukrainian people who either fled their homes or stayed in the year since Russia began what he called an “unprovoked and unconscionable” war. His speech happened at the Clements Center for National Defense, which works to train the next generation of national security leaders.

“In the face of Russian aggression, the world has witnessed the incredible strength and resilience of the Ukrainian people,” Pence said Friday. “With their backs against the wall, unwavering in their struggle for freedom, the people of Ukraine have inspired the free world.”

Pence called for the U.S. to enact further economic sanctions against Russia and its leaders as well as direct more military aid and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

“I submit the fastest path to peace is to help Ukraine win the war,” he said.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden took a four-day trip to both Ukraine and Poland, where he announced an additional $500 million in military aid for Ukraine as well as upcoming sanctions to further pressure companies and others supporting the Russian war effort.

  • Misha Simanovskyy is a graduate student with The LBJ school of Public Affairs. He is from the Donbas region of Ukraine. He is shaking VP Pence's hand after introducing him. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at UT-Austin on the anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)
  • UT students pose with former Vice President Mike Pence during an appearance on the UT-Austin campus, Feb. 24, 2023. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

Pence, though, chided the Biden administration’s response to the conflict Friday, arguing that it was too slow. He said America needed to now fast-track providing tanks and even more military resources. However, Democratic leaders were not the only ones that Pence chastised during his remarks. He also levied criticism against some of his fellow Republicans after saying American support for Ukraine must not end.

“There’s one person to blame for the unfolding of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and that’s Vladimir Putin,” Pence said. “While some in my party have taken a somewhat different view, let me be clear: there can be no room in the leadership of the Republican Party for apologists for Putin. There can only be room for champions of freedom.”

At Friday’s event, a Ukrainian graduate student pursuing a dual master’s degree in global policy studies and Russian and Eastern European studies at UT introduced Pence.

Pence’s last visit to Austin happened in Oct. 2019 when he delivered remarks at a Trump Victory luncheon.

Possible 2024 run?

Despite ongoing speculation, the former vice president made no direct mention while in Austin Friday that he would challenge Donald Trump and run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Close to the conclusion of his speech, though, Pence discussed inflation, crime and the border as challenges here at home. Those issues in particular mirror the larger talking points that GOP leaders are using when they discuss the possibility of taking back the White House next year.

“The American people are reclaiming our security and prosperity here at home,” Pence said. “With the advent of a new Republican majority in Congress, and soon — and very soon — I believe the American people will rally behind renewed leadership at the highest level.”

At the moment, Trump’s only challenger in the Republican primary is Nikki Haley, his former ambassador to the United Nations.