WARSAW, Poland (AP) — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday embraced calls for an international war crimes investigation of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, citing the “atrocities” of bombing civilians, including a maternity hospital.
Speaking alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda at a press conference in Warsaw, where she is demonstrating U.S. support for NATO’s eastern flank allies, Harris expressed outrage over the bombing Wednesday of the maternity hospital and scenes of bloodied pregnant women being evacuated, as well as other attacks on civilians. She stopped short of directly accusing Russia of having committed war crimes.
“Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” said Harris, noting that the United Nations has already started a process to review allegations. “I have no question the eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities.”
Duda, for his part, said “it is obvious to us that in Ukraine Russians are committing war crimes.” He added that in his view the invasion was “bearing the features of a genocide — it aims at eliminating and destroying a nation.”
Harris praised the Polish people for their generosity for taking in nearly 1.5 million refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
“I’ve been watching or reading about the work of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and so I bring you thanks from the American people,” Harris said earlier during a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hours after the U.S. House passed a massive spending bill that includes $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine and its European allies.
The legislation includes $6.8 billion to care for refugees and other economic aid to allies.
Harris also met Thursday afternoon with Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland since the Russian invasion began. She praised the refugees for their “courage” and said the conversation would help inform U.S. assistance efforts.
The vice president is also scheduled to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while in Warsaw. The Canadian leader has been in Europe in recent days meeting with allies about Ukraine.
Harris’ whirlwind visit to Poland and Romania was billed by the White House as a chance for the vice president to consult with two of the leaders from eastern flank NATO nations about the growing humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Already, more than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine — with more than half coming to Poland — and even more expected to arrive in the days ahead.
Duda warned of a “refugee disaster” if Poland doesn’t receive more assistance to help house and feed Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. He said he asked Harris for the U.S. to “speed up” the process for those Ukrainian refugees who would want to go to the U.S. and might have family there.
“The United States is absolutely prepared to do what we can and what we must to support Poland, in terms of the burden that they have taken on,” said Harris.
But differences between Warsaw and Washington over a Polish plan to send Soviet-made fighter jets to a base in Germany for Ukraine’s use have cast a shadow over Harris’ visit to Poland. Just as Harris arrived in Warsaw late Wednesday evening, the Pentagon definitively rejected the idea.
The proposal was publicly floated by Poland — without first consulting the U.S. — days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration was “very, very actively” looking at a proposal under which Ukraine’s neighbor Poland would supply Kyiv with Soviet-era fighters and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for their loss. Polish government officials, however, insisted any transfer of planes must be done within the NATO framework.
“In a nutshell we have to be a responsible member of the North Atlantic Alliance,” said Duda.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon shut the door on the prospect of NATO transferring jets to Ukraine, saying such a move with a U.S. and NATO connection would run a “high risk” of escalating the Russia-Ukraine war.
Harris, in her remarks, brushed aside any notion of tensions between Poland and the U.S. over how to effectively support Ukraine. “I want to be very clear, the United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to do to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, full stop,” she said.
Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the commander of U.S. European Command, said in a statement Thursday that the “most effective way to support the Ukrainian military in their fight against Russia is to provide increased amounts of anti-tank weapons and air defense systems.” That effort by the U.S. and allies is ongoing, Wolters added.
Harris will travel on Friday to Bucharest, where she’s to meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
AP writer Zeke Miller contributed from Washington.