Kamala Harris in Europe: Will she help calm the Russia-Ukraine crisis?

White House sends Kamala Harris on high-stakes diplomatic trip

‘Outnumbered’ panelists discuss the decision to send the vice president to meet with world leaders as Russia escalates pressure on Ukraine.

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Germany this weekend to attend the Munich Security Conference – her fifth foreign trip as vice president – amid escalating warnings of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Biden administration officials have said is possible in the “next several days.”

Administration officials previewing Harris’ trip said the conference comes at a “very decisive moment,” saying the vice president’s leadership will serve as a “resounding signal that engagement with our allies and partners is an absolutely critical part of our overall diplomacy and our approach” to the situation between Ukraine and Russia.

Harris delivered remarks Friday ahead of a bilateral meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, stressing the United States’ “enduring” commitment to NATO.

“I am here to ensure that through our discussions and the discussions I will have with other of our allies that we continue, as these hours and days progress, to stay in close contact,” Harris said.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian President Egils Levits and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

“We understand this is a dynamic moment in time,” Harris said. “And so, the work that we are doing on a daily basis and sometimes on an hourly basis — to strengthen the relationship; to check in, in terms of our strategic imperative — is critically important. And that is one of the reasons that I am here.” 

Harris stressed that the United States remains “open to and desirous of diplomacy as it relates to the dialogue and discussions we have had with Russia.”

“But we are also committed if Russia takes aggressive action to ensuring there will be severe consequences in terms of the economic sanctions we have discussed,” Harris said. Harris added that she knows NATO is “strong in that regard,” and thanked Stoltenberg for his partnership in that effort.

Vice President Kamala Harris meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, during the Munich Security Conference, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Munich.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Harris’ comments come just a day after President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had reason to believe Russia is “engaged in a false flag operation,” and warned that an invasion “will happen in the next several days.”

Senior administration officials said Harris, throughout her time at the conference, will discuss the “unity” the United States has achieved with European allies, which they say they are “determined to maintain.” She will also discuss the economic measures the Biden administration has prepared and “may need to deploy depending on how things play out.”

The vice president is set to deliver a formal speech on Saturday, where, officials said, she will address the threat of Russian aggression and the latest state of play and underscore how unity between Western allies is a “source of strength that will allow us to respond swiftly and severely to any further Russian aggression.”

During her trip, Harris will also meet with Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskyy, which officials said will be “a real opportunity to underscore our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to further coordinate the diplomatic efforts that have been underway to provide economic and defensive security assistance for Ukraine.”

From left, Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian President Egils Levits, Vice President Kamala Harris and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, pose for photographs during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Harris is also expected to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who visited President Biden at the White House earlier this month.

Officials said Harris will convey this weekend that the Biden administration is “prepared for every contingency.”

Some, though, have been critical of the Biden administration’s decision to send Harris to the conference during such a pivotal time on the world stage, citing her limited foreign policy experience and her portfolio thus far. Harris had been tasked by the president with handling efforts to tackle the “root causes” of migration to the U.S. southern border, as well as the administration’s push to get a voting rights bill approved through Congress.

Former Bush administration official and Fox News contributor Karl Rove said before Harris’ trip it might be “a successful conference and a successful message” that the Biden administration will convey, but he said the success would not be due to Harris’ presence.

“The Munich Security Conference will be attended by a large number of U.S. government officials, including leading members of the Senate and House,” Rove said this week. “And my sense is that both Republicans and Democrats alike are going to be going to our allies saying, ‘We’re all in this together, we need to stay strong, and we need to provide a united front against Putin and make certain that he understands there are huge consequences for him. 

“He’s got a fragile economy, a difficult political position back at home, and we in the United States and our European allies stand ready to sanction him and sanction him hard and to support the Ukrainians in their efforts to maintain their independence.

“And if so, then it might be a successful conference and a successful message,” Rove added. “But it’s not going to be because of the presence of Kamala Harris. It’s going to be because of the presence of a large number of U.S. government officials and particularly members of Congress showing a united front.”

“Putin is a bully who responds to strength,” former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Halley told Fox News. “Sending VP Harris to Europe for meetings and speeches will only amuse him. President Biden needs to act now and hit him with sanctions.”

And former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it “deeply troubling that Joe Biden is delegating our nation’s foreign policy to the vice president,” in a statement to Fox News.

“Kamala Harris can’t even find our own southern border, let alone address the national security threat that is flowing across it,” Pompeo said. “How can anyone in the world, especially Russia, take her seriously? Russian aggression of Ukraine’s borders and sovereignty demands better than this amateur approach.”

James Anderson, president of the Institute of World Politics and former deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told Fox News that Harris “will attempt to convey a message of unity and resolve among the allies, which is always important in an international crisis.”

“The fact that she will be delivering this message as the senior U.S. official in Munich is unlikely to carry any extra weight, however,” Anderson told Fox News. “She is relatively unknown among allied leaders and diplomats who will gather in Munich.” 

Anderson said, however, that the Biden administration’s “foreign policy record, to include its disastrous mishandling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, undermines its credibility to convey resolve at the very moment that it is needed the most.”

Harris previously traveled to Guatemala, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam, France and, most recently, Honduras.

The Associated Press contributed tot his report.

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