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Harris to travel to Poland, Romania as Russia continues invasion of Ukraine for a fourteenth day

Vice President Kamala Harris is set to travel to Eastern Europe Wednesday, carrying a message that the U.S. stands “firmly and resolutely” with NATO allies and will continue providing assistance to the Ukrainian people, senior administration officials said, warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “made a mistake” that will result in a “resounding strategic defeat” for Russia.

The vice president is expected to travel to Poland and Romania, as Russia’s war with Ukraine rages on for a fourteenth day. Officials, in previewing her trip, said it will “demonstrate the strength and unity of the NATO alliance and U.S. support for NATO’s eastern flank allies in the face of Russian aggression.”

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Harris is expected to make stops in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, where she is set to hold bilateral meetings with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Harris is also set to meet with Canadian President Justin Trudeau, who will be in Poland at the same time.

During her visit, officials said the vice president is set to engage with Ukrainian refugees. More than 1 million refugees have fled from Ukraine to Poland since Russia invaded on Feb. 24. She is also set to meet with Embassy Warsaw staff, as well as Embassy Kyiv staff who have relocated to Poland amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Harris, on Friday, is also set to meet with U.S. and Polish service members in Warsaw to thank them for their service, before traveling to Bucharest, Romania, for a bilateral meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, and members of Embassy Bucharest staff.

Senior administration officials said the vice president, during the trip, will engage with both Poland and Romania on additional troops in the countries and neighboring countries, as well as other force posture adjustments to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defense.

Officials said Harris will also maintain the need to provide humanitarian support and military assistance to Ukraine, and present ways to “continue to support” the Ukrainian people.

Harris is also set to discuss how the U.S. and NATO allies can impose severe economic costs on Russia, and ensure that the actions create a “strategic defeat” for Moscow through sanctions, while also defending “international rules and norms.”

“Harris will coordinate with close allies on how to stay united in certain basic principles of freedom, peace and security that brought the United States and Europe peace and stability since World War II in unprecedented ways,” a senior administration official said.

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The trip comes just after Poland on Tuesday offered to give its entire fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. in exchange for a chance to buy American F-16s as part of a deal to bolster the Ukrainian air force while upgrading the Poles’ air force with NATO aircraft.

“The authorities of the Republic of Poland, after consultations between the President and the Government, are ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America,” the Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday. “At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes.”

Poland's President Andrzej Duda talks for the media during a news conference with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski at the presidential office in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.

The Poles also requested that any other NATO member countries that have MiGs of their own take similar action. Those may include Bulgaria and Slovakia.

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Ukrainian defense officials for days have been asking for help with supplies ranging from helmets to ammunition and fighter jets – a request that Poland appeared ready to fulfill almost two weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A senior administration official said the United States has been in dialogue with Poland for “some time” about how to “best provide a variety of security assistance to Ukraine.”

“And that’s a dialogue that absolutely will continue up to, and as part of, the vice president’s trip,” the official said, adding that this is “a key priority for us and for all of our NATO allies.”

“We have been in conversations with the Poles, as well as with all of our allies, about how best to get security assistance to Ukraine, and what are the things that can be the most helpful,” the official continued, adding that they expect conversations to “continue” during Harris’ visit.

The official noted, though, that this is “not a one and done situation.”

Early Tuesday, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to President Biden urging him to support a deal with Poland.

But Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby distanced the U.S. from the proposal, saying that while the decision to hand over jets to Ukraine is in the hands of the Polish government, American involvement “raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”

“It is simply not clear to us that there is substantive rationale for it,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one.” 

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He said the U.S. would continue talks with Poland and the rest of NATO regarding the issue.

Ukrainian pilots have been trained on the Soviet-era MiG jets. Poland, which joined NATO in 1999, aimed to replace the donated MiGs with used F-16s.

Poland has 28 MiG-29s that it plans to hand over. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, “Ukraine has a broad defense industry capable of… maintaining and upgrading Soviet-era combat aircraft.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in London earlier Tuesday that despite the decision, “neither Poland [nor] NATO are parties” to the war in Ukraine.

Russia meanwhile has warned that it will view support of Ukraine’s air force as an escalation of the conflict and that it may retaliate.

The United Kingdom, which has an advanced air force of its own, said it would support Poland’s move as war rages in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, officials said that throughout Russia’s war on Ukraine, there has been a “very strong degree of U.S.-European unity,” which they say “will be a core part of this trip.”

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“While in Poland and Romania, the vice president will discuss all of the steps we’ve already taken together, but, equally important, focus on how we move forward together and make sure that we continue to stay aligned,” an official said.

As for Harris’ preparations ahead of the trip this week, a senior administration official said the vice president has been “immersed in this issue, as has the president and the rest of the national security team,” and has been “working intensively on a daily basis on all of the issues that are related to the ongoing crisis resulting from the Russian invasion.” 

Harris has had “a number of specific sessions” focused on Poland and Romania, as well as briefings and discussions with experts.

“This is her third Europe trip in the last couple of months. You know, when she first went to Paris, we had already started to get the signs of potential Russian buildup. So she has been focused on this issue for some time,” the official said, adding that she also traveled to the Munich Security Conference in Germany and numerous bilateral engagements.

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The official said that there has not just been “extensive preparation for this particular trip,” but said that the past several months “have all been very much focused on what has tragically become a defining issue for the entire administration.”

The comments about Harris’ preparations come after the vice president faced widespread criticism after she attempted to provide an explanation of the Ukraine crisis during an appearance on the “The Morning Hustle” earlier this month.

Asked at one point to explain the crisis overseas in “layman’s terms” for concerned listeners, Harris responded slowly, “Ukraine is a country in Europe. It exists next to another country called Russia. Russia is a bigger country. Russia decided to invade a smaller country called Ukraine, so basically that’s wrong.”

Meanwhile, Harris’ trip comes just a day after President Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports to the United States. The Biden administration made the announcement after coordination with European allies and partners, but acknowledged that many partners were not able to make the move, due to their heavy reliance on Russian energy.

Biden’s ban on Russian oil imports came just a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged “boycotts” of Russian oil from western allies. 

Zelenskyy also has been urging the United States and European allies to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as Russia continues its brutal and unprovoked invasion. 

Pleading with Western allies on Monday, Zelenskyy asked: “How many deaths and losses are still needed to secure the sky over Ukraine?”

Biden and NATO have ruled out a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying that enforcing it would put the U.S. and NATO in direct confrontation with Russia and would expand the conflict.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO and therefore not subject to the Article V provision of the NATO alliance that says when one member country is attacked all member countries will take action to assist.

Fox News’ Michael Ruiz, Tara Prindiville and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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