Kamala Harris, vice president of the United States, visited Poland on Thursday to inquire about the situation of refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to show her country’s commitment to the territories on NATO’s eastern flank. Also, with the Atlantic Alliance itself: “The United States is prepared to defend every centimeter of NATO territory”, Harris said in Warsaw, referring to article 5, which guarantees that an aggression against one of the parties implies an attack on the set.
The number two of Joe Biden has taken advantage of a joint press conference with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, to request that the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Moscow in these first three weeks of the war be investigated. “There should be an investigation and it is everyone’s obligation to remain vigilant. I have no doubt that the eyes of the world are on the war and on what Russia is doing as part of its aggression, on its atrocities. Without a doubt”, he has sentenced him.
The visit is part of one of the most high-profile international trips in Harris’ 13 months on the job. But he starts unsettled by the staging this week of the distance between Poland’s desire to help and the realistic calculations of the Pentagon. On Monday, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau announced that his country, which shares a border with Ukraine and has taken in 1.33 million refugees from the conflict, according to the State Department, would give up Soviet-made fighter jets, about thirty MiG29s to the United States in exchange for American F-16s with similar characteristics. Those old fighters, symbols of the Cold War, would be shipped to the war zone from a US base in Germany for use by Ukrainian pilots, who learned to fly them. The Pentagon has rejected this maneuver considering that it could be interpreted by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as a provocation and lead to an unwanted escalation of the conflict.
President Duda, in an apparent attempt to soften the disagreement, has assured that the Warsaw proposal was in response to a desperate request launched by the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski. Immediately after Poland’s intentions became known, Washington declared that the announcement had caught its officials “by surprise”.
“It is an extremely complicated situation,” Duda responded to the question of whether he consulted his intentions with the United States before launching the idea. “As a responsible member of NATO we listen to requests for help. In this case, they came from Kiev, and, to some extent, from the media. We behave as a reliable member of NATO should behave”, said the Polish president.
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Harris, for her part, has avoided direct questions on the matter. “The United States and Poland are aligned on what has been done so far and we agree that we are prepared to help Ukraine and the Ukrainians. Period”, he has limited himself to pointing out. The vice president has focused her speech on the humanitarian and security aid that the United States has provided to Ukraine and Poland. And she has announced the sending of some 50 million euros of additional funds for refugees through a US agency for international cooperation.
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