Europe, she said, could be at its most perilous moment since the end of World War II
Acknowledging “the real possibility of war”, Vice President Kamala Harris concluded a weekend of outreach to European allies with an effort to bolster the West’s resolve to confront Moscow with crippling sanctions amid signs increasingly disastrous reports suggest Vladimir Putin is considering ordering an invasion. from Ukraine.
In a burst of diplomacy at the annual Munich security conference, Harris tried to make the point to US allies that rapidly escalating tensions on the Ukrainian-Russian border meant that European security was under “direct threat.” “and that there should be unified support for economic sanctions if the Kremlin invades its neighbor.
“We are talking about the potential for war in Europe. I mean, let’s really take a moment to understand the significance of what we’re talking about,” Harris told reporters before returning to Washington. Europe, she said, could be at its most perilous moment since the end of World War II.
“It’s been over 70 years, and in those 70 years…there has been peace and security,” she said. “We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe.”
President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with his national security team later Sunday in Washington to discuss ongoing developments. Harris planned to participate while returning from Germany. Before leaving Munich, Harris and his team updated them on his meetings and exchanges during the conference.
In Ukraine, shelling intensified in and around territory held by Russian-backed rebels, separatists evacuated thousands of women and children, and Putin oversaw tests of nuclear-capable missiles. Putin massed over 150,000 Russian troops on the border.
During a series of choreographed meetings and a major speech at the security conference, Harris told world leaders they stood at a “definitive” and “decisive” moment for the world.
Harris met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, leaders of the three Baltic countries, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Biden sent Harris to Germany with simple marching orders to amplify his fear that a Russian invasion is very likely and impress upon European allies that they must be prepared to impose the toughest sanctions Moscow has ever seen.
Harris told reporters that an invasion — and subsequent sanctions against Russia — would also have costs for Americans.
“When America stands up for principles and all the things that we hold dear, sometimes it forces us to put ourselves forward in a way that maybe will come at a cost,” Harris said. “In this situation, it may be related to energy costs.”
The vice president’s appearance in Munich was largely overshadowed by Biden’s statement from the White House on Friday night that he was “convinced” that Putin had decided to invade. And his message of unity in Europe in the face of Russian aggression was surpassed by Zelensky. Shortly after meeting Harris on Saturday, he used his presence at the conference to wonder why the United States and Europe were waiting to impose sanctions on Russia.
“What are you waiting for?” Zelenskyy asked Western leaders. He said sanctions that targeted Russia after Ukraine’s economy collapsed and “parts of our country will be occupied” would bring little comfort.
He also repeated Ukraine’s desire to join NATO even as Putin demands guarantees from the United States that the alliance will never happen.
Harris said she would not “guess” Zelenskyy’s “desires for her country” and she backed the US decision to suspend preemptive sanctions. “The purpose of sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence,” she said.
Harris has also heard calls for more US troops from Baltic leaders who fear their countries could be the next ones Russia turns to.
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Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged the United States, which has increased its military presence in the Baltics in recent weeks, to do even more and create a “permanent presence” in Lithuania. Currently, the United States deploys a small contingent of troops to the country on a rotational basis.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas echoed this call. “We lost our independence to Russia once, and we don’t want that to happen again,” she said.
Harris made no promises, although she predicted in her speech to the conference that the United States will “further strengthen our NATO allies on the eastern flank” if Russia invades Ukraine.