Warsaw, Poland – On Thursday, US Vice President Kamala Harris responded favorably to calls for an international investigation into the war crimes of Russia after its invasion of Ukraineciting the “atrocities” of shelling civilians, including a maternity.
Speaking alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda at a news conference in Warsaw, where she is showing US support for allies on NATO’s eastern flank, Harris expressed outrage at Wednesday’s bombing of the maternity ward and scenes of evacuation of bloodied pregnant women, as well as other attacks. on civilians. She refrained from directly accusing Russia of committing war crimes.
“Absolutely, there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” Harris said, noting that the United Nations has already begun a process to review the allegations. “I have no doubt that the eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of aggression and atrocities.”
Harris’ visit to Poland came amid a spat between Warsaw and Washington over a Polish offer to send its Soviet-made fighter jets to a US and NATO base in Germany so that they can then go to Ukraine. Poland, in turn, would receive American F-16s.
Poland had publicly launched the proposal without consulting the United States first. As Harris arrived in Warsaw on Wednesday evening, the Pentagon rejected the idea outright, saying it risked escalating the Russian-Ukrainian war.
At Thursday’s press conference, Harris and Duda sought to iron out differences over the issue of fighter jets.
“I want to be very clear, the United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are ready to do to help Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, period,” she said.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a press conference with the Polish President at Belwelder Palace in Warsaw, Poland on March 10, 2022. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Duda, for his part, dodged questions about why Poland announced its proposal without consulting the United States first. He stressed that his government’s intention was driven by the desire that “NATO as a whole come to a common decision” on the matter.
“In a nutshell, we must be a responsible member of the North Atlantic Alliance,” Duda said.
Harris’ acceptance for a war crimes probe came after the Biden administration warned on Wednesday that Russia may seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, as the White House dismissed Russian allegations of illegal development. of chemical weapons in the country it invaded.
The White House raised the notion of Russia after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova – without evidence – accused Ukraine of running chemical and biological weapons labs with US backing .
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced last week that he was launching an investigation that could target senior officials allegedly responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide amid rising death tolls. civilians and widespread destruction of property during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But investigations at the ICC take many years and relatively few convictions have been handed down. The ICC was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The crime of aggression, which cannot be investigated in Ukraine because neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the tribunal, was added later.
Duda said: “It is obvious to us that in Ukraine the Russians are committing war crimes.” He added that in his view the invasion “had the characteristics of genocide – it is aimed at eliminating and destroying a nation”.
Harris praised the Polish people for their generosity in welcoming nearly 1.5 million refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
“I’ve watched or read about the work of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and so I send you the thanks of the American people,” Harris said earlier during a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. hours after the US House passed a massive spending bill that includes $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine and its European allies.
The legislation includes $6.8 billion to deal with refugees and other economic aid to allies.
Harris also met on Thursday with seven refugees who have fled Ukraine 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 group included a Ukrainian disability advocate, a Moroccan university student, a professional film producer from Odessa, a Senegalese community leader and teacher, an LGBTQIA+ rights activist from Kyiv, a Ukrainian energy expert and her young adult daughter.
“We’re here to support you, and you’re not alone,” Harris told the group. “And I know there’s so much about the experience that you’ve been through that has made you feel alone. You’re not alone. We all over the world are watching you.”
The vice president is also due to meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Warsaw. The Canadian leader has traveled to Europe in recent days to meet with allies over Ukraine.
Harris’ whirlwind visit to Poland and Romania was touted by the White House as an opportunity for the vice president to consult with two of the leaders of NATO countries on the eastern flank about the growing humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Already, more than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine – more than half of them to Poland – and even more are expected to arrive in the coming days.
Duda warned of a “catastrophe for refugees” if Poland does not receive more aid to help house and feed Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. He said he asked Harris for the United States to “speed up” the process for Ukrainian refugees who would like to go to the United States and might have family there.
“The United States is absolutely ready to do what we can and must to support Poland, given the burden it has shouldered,” Harris said.
Harris will travel to Bucharest on Friday, where she is to meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Miller contributed from Washington.