It seemed designed to prevent Poland from directly arming Ukraine in its battle against Russia, but created a conundrum for the United States, which is also determined to avoid a direct conflict with Moscow.
The episode perfectly illustrates the fragile NATO politics that Harris will embark on when she arrives in Europe on a mission to strengthen Western unity in the face of Russian aggression. Eastern NATO members like Poland fear Russian President Vladimir Putin will watch them next, and the United States is working overtime to reassure them that their safety is paramount.
At the same time, the NATO alliance is trying to avoid direct involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which has prevented measures such as the application of a no-fly zone to the over Ukraine. The option of supplying Ukraine with Soviet-era jets was seen as a potential alternative.
“We have been in dialogue with the Poles for some time on how best to provide a variety of security assistance to Ukraine. And it is a dialogue that will absolutely continue until the Vice President’s trip and in the part of it,” a senior administration official said. of Harris’ departure for Warsaw.
“This is a key priority for us and for all of our NATO allies,” the official continued. “And so, we expect us to continue talking about how to achieve this really important goal. A number of people have had a variety of ideas and we think they are all worth pursuing. discussed and that is what we will continue to do.”
US officials have privately weighed sending planes to Ukraine, but have repeatedly noted the difficult logistical challenges it would entail.
Before he left on Wednesday morning, there were intensive conversations within the administration about how to work with Poland to reach some sort of deal to allow the planes to reach Ukraine.
Harris tasked with appeasing nervous allies
“The past two months have all been very focused on what has tragically become a defining issue for the entire administration,” said a second senior administration official.
Harris, for her part, has “really been immersed in this,” the first official said, “working intensely on a daily basis on all issues related to the ongoing crisis resulting from the Russian invasion.”
The officials said Harris would arrive in Europe with a three-part message: that the United States stands with its NATO allies; that he will continue to support the Ukrainian people; and that Putin made a mistake that will result in a “resounding defeat” for Russia.
Harris plans to focus intensely on “next steps” with his interlocutors in Europe this week, officials said, including implementing sanctions, receiving large numbers of refugees and developing plans. to provide more military assistance to Ukraine.
Discussions will focus on “how to move the ball forward”, said the second official. “As proud as we are of what we have done together as an alliance so far, we are very aware that there are many challenges ahead.”
It is Harris’ third trip to Europe in the past five months and comes just weeks after she traveled to the Munich Security Conference to deliver a message of resolve as Russia massed troops at the Ukrainian border.
In Warsaw, Harris will also meet refugees who have fled violence in Ukraine, as well as US diplomats who have moved to Poland from the closed US Embassy in Kyiv.
She will then travel to Romania, where refugees fleeing bombing in Ukraine have arrived in their thousands. Like Poland, Romania is a member of NATO where the United States has deployed troops amid heightened tensions with Russia.
“A number of these countries, including those she will visit, have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “She will also talk about our continued range of options and assistance that we provide to the people of Ukraine.”
Harris became his most senior envoy to a continent suddenly facing questions about its stability and security. She visited the Munich Security Conference in February as Russia massed its troops on Ukraine’s borders, delivering a speech outlining the US position and meeting with European allies to discuss their response.
In Germany, she met the leaders of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, three other NATO members worried about Putin’s future ambitions. She also met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Harris spoke with the prime ministers of Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, part of a sustained effort by the administration to engage its NATO allies on the eastern flank.
An intense start to wartime diplomacy for Harris
It was an intensive introduction to wartime diplomacy for a vice president with little foreign policy experience. Its presence in Europe is a signal from the White House that it takes its NATO obligations seriously and that coordinating support for Ukraine is a key objective.
Harris supporters also say it demonstrates Biden’s confidence in her to represent the United States in Europe at a critical time for the continent.
White House officials have said they do not expect Biden himself to travel to Europe in the near term. A presidential trip abroad requires a much more robust infrastructure and would be difficult to execute quickly. By comparison, the vice-president’s team had a little over a week to prepare for their visit.
Harris has worked over the past year to improve her foreign policy credentials, helped in part by assignments given to her by Biden that introduced her to foreign leaders and put her at the center of global issues. reviews.
Her experience before becoming vice president focused primarily on national issues, including when she served as California’s attorney general and later as a U.S. senator. But Biden sent her abroad several times, and she was relatively well received by leaders eager to break through with the new administration.