Background Press Briefing on the Vice President's Meetings in Poland and Romania
Warsaw Marriott Hotel
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. When some of us had a chance to speak about this trip beforehand, we said that the main mission of the Vice President here would be, first and foremost, expressing solidarity with the government of Poland, which is such -- been such a great partner to us throughout the years but especially in this crisis, and also coordinating with the government of Poland on next steps.
And I think we can say, as we've gotten through the day here in Warsaw, that she did both of those very successfully and effectively.
Just to remind -- and I think you've tracked the whole day -- but they started with -- meeting with the Prime Minister Morawiecki, followed by her meeting with the -- with President Duda, which started as a sort of tête-à-tête, gave them a chance to talk privately about some things, and then a wider delegation meeting on both sides, including the Polish Defense Minister on that side.
Then -- as, again, I think people know -- she met with a diverse group of refugees from Ukraine and met with our embassy, including some who had been displaced from Embassy Kyiv. And that, you know, was important for her to do because she knows what our embassy -- she always does this in these trips -- right? But in this particular case, these are people who have been really through a lot, including the evacuation.
And then we just finished the final bilateral of the day with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, who happened to be here as well. But that was fitting and appropriate because Canada has been a real important player in Ukraine as well; lots of Ukrainian Canadians there.
But my point about -- on both of these issues, solidarity with Poland and our eastern flank allies, and coordinating next steps: As I said, I think, in both of those cases, it was really a successful visit.
I mean, on the solidarity piece, it wasn't just showing up and demonstrating our commitment to this alliance and to the eastern flank through her presence here and rearticulating how central our belief in Article 5 is -- that we really mean it when we say it -- which is more important now than it has been for quite a long time because of the serious -- seriousness of the threats on the eastern flank borders, but also underscoring that we've not just put our money where our mouth is but our physical presence, doubling the U.S. troop presence in Poland with all sorts of associated equipment.
The Vice President was able to announce that the Patriot's air defense systems, which are so vital in this current context with potential Russian threats, given all Poland is doing in this conflict, are now here. We delivered on this pledge to put two Patriot batteries in Poland.
There's also the question of providing Abrams tanks, which is going to be an important part of Poland's ability to defend itself. And they discussed all of those issues with the -- with the President, including a number of others, including energy security, which is important to both of us.
On the Ukraine piece, it was also important to coordinate next steps -- again, not just to show our commitment to the issue but to talk about concretely what we're doing together.
You heard the Vice President talk about the vote in the House of Representatives for $13.6 billion, which will go to humanitarian support and security assistance, and not just in Ukraine but to Poland and others in the region. I think that's a reflection of the bipartisan support for what we are doing.
That's something you saw her demonstrate and heard her talk about in Munich. And I think this really embodies it -- to see Congress stepping up like that and underscoring with this amount of assistance, you know, how big the challenge is but how committed we are to meeting it. The Vice President has been a big advocate for that.
She was able to announce $53 million for the World Food Programme, given through USAID, for humanitarian assistance.
And she was able to talk to her Polish counterparts about our security assistance, which has been vital so far. I think it's been hugely effective and impactful in Ukraine. But we know it's not enough and it has to go on. And so I think we're quite proud of what we as an alliance and we as the United States and Poland have accomplished together by supporting the Ukrainians with security assistance.
But there's more to do. And so they discussed together how we can continue to support the Ukrainian people in their inspiring fight against Russia's attempt to invade and potentially occupy.
And then there was also a lot of coordination with her Polish counterparts on what has also been central to our approach, which is making Russia pay a price for this unjust aggression.
And again, I think a lot had been already done before, in terms of the deep financial sanctions we've coordinated closely with the European Union, the export controls we've done, hitting the central bank, de-SWIFTing banks, hitting Russian sovereign debt.
But the Vice President here had an opportunity to also discuss next steps on this front, because this doesn't stop here. And we remain committed to doing this together with our European partners -- first and foremost, those in the eastern flank, like Poland.
So those were the core elements of her discussions with her counterparts. And I would just wrap this before we take a few questions by talking about her personal role in all of this and her personal interest in all of this.
You know, this is her third trip to Europe in the last several months, going back to Paris in November, which wasn't directly related to this crisis, but if you recall, that's when we first started seeing signs of Russia moving troops. So already then there was a discussion with our French counterparts about this issue and European security in general.
And then, of course, the Munich Security Conference where she was really clear about the principles that are at stake, not just Ukraine security but the principles that have led Europe to be safe and secure, in an unprecedented way, for 70-some years. And she met with the leaders of the Baltic states, and she met with the Secretary General of NATO, and she met with the German Chancellor, and all of that in the backdrop of this crisis. The war hadn't broken out yet, but we saw what was coming and, sadly and tragically, it did come.
So this trip was in the context of the Vice President's engagement in Europe, engagement on transatlantic relations, and determination -- in particular, engagement on the eastern flank. And when you think about the number of meetings I've just described, to add to that the calls she made; she called five prime ministers from the region just last week, and I suspect you'll see more to come. Because she really understands deeply how consequential this is, not just for these partners on the eastern flank but for all of Europe and the United States, and the principles that we've relied on for decades.
So you've seen a lot of engagement. This was -- and last thing I guess I'll say, and maybe you'll have questions about this: There were also a lot of questions about this relationship, even in, like, the past 24 hours -- "Were we really aligned with Poland?" "Have we really been aligned with the European Union and NATO?" And I think, in the wake of this trip and her engagement, I think we can confidently say that we are closely aligned, which has been at the heart of what we've been trying to do from the start.
AIDE: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. I'll let --
AIDE: You can call on people.
Q: Oh, I'll start. Not a jet question, but a jet-adjacent question. And I think the public-facing view has always been, you know, "We're all on the same page. We're closely aligned," like you just said.
I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the fissures or the fault lines or what -- you know, when we were ushered out, like, what folks are asking more from the United States from? Is it around the humanitarian crisis? Is it more troops or more weapons? Or, like, what is she kind of taking back -- taking back to Biden to say that this is what folks want? I'm not sure if (inaudible), but what do they want?
And I think the second question is -- she came, like, really close to, I guess, the "war crimes" phrase. And I wonder if that ratchets it up to a different level. Is she being really careful in her wor- -- I mean, I think there was a direct question from the Polish press. And is she being very specific about her wording? Does that -- does that take it -- does that cross a line that the U.S. has to act or do something if that phrase is, kind of, uttered?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, two things: unity fissures and then war crimes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, on the first, we said from the start: These are a range of different countries with different geographies, histories, interests, and you weren't going to see exact alignment on every single issue, including sanctions. We have different energy dependence, different orientations. But we would want to try to align as much as possible.
And I really think, you know, when you step back and look at it, we are -- we, as an alliance -- as, let's say, the NATO Alliance, U.S. and transatlantic alliance -- have been remarkably aligned.
I don't think anybody would have imagined the degree to which we would proceed together on sanctions on Russia or the distance the Europeans would go, because they're the ones who have the most at stake in terms of economic ties with Russia or energy dependence. And yet, you've seen them aligned with us. And a lot of our announcements have been either joint or at the same time, or, if not, you know, one after the other and very similar.
So I think, on that front, the alignment has been remarkable. And if, you know, you've been following these issues for a long time, it's hard to remember the degree of unity on an approach to economic sanctions towards any country.
And then on the security assistance, too, before this conflict started, the idea that there would be such extensive cooperation between the United States and its partners in delivering military and security equipment to Ukraine in the fight against Russia.
So, yes, there are -- you know, you hear a lot of demands in Eastern Europe to do more. And that's what we're determined to talk about together. And we're -- we are doing more, and we're doing it together with them.
On war crimes: No, I don't think -- I mean, you heard the Vice President; she was passionate about this issue because of the horrors we've seen in Ukraine. And she mentioned a particular case yesterday of a maternal hospital being bombed. But there are so many horrific examples to point to.
So, yes, she was passionate about it. But what she said is something that we in the administration have been saying for some time, which is just the fact that deliberate targeting of civilians would be defined as a war crime and that should be looked into.
There's a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which is what she was specifically referring to, for the Human Rights Council. That has already begun doing so. And we are gathering information, and we'll share it with whomever appropriate, because the horrors that we're seeing do deserve to be investigated. And if evidence is found of war crimes, then that needs to be declared and people need to be held accountable. I think the German government has also started an investigation.
So what she said is not breaking new ground; it's what the U.S. administration has been saying. But I think what you saw in the Vice President is a real passion to make Russia pay a price for these atrocities and to hold people accountable.
And, by the way, the answer to the second part of your question was related to the first. It's because of the degree of Russia's unjust and unprovoked and unnecessary invasion, I think, that you've seen such unity on sanctions and support for Ukraine.
Q: Just really quickly. Two things. My colleagues keep hearing that the White House is considering sanctions on Russia's state-owned atomic energy company and that the administration is consulting with the nuclear power industry on the potential impact. How likely is that? And how imminent would that be?
And then, two, do you see the ban on Russian oil and gas as permanent or temporary?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, on the first, I won't announce anything here. I'll just say that we continue to look at sanctions that we can do unilaterally or in cooperation with our European partners, and there will be more to come. But I don't have any particular announcement of any sort on future sanctions.
And your second question was --
Q: The ban on Russian oil and gas -- is that permanent or temporary?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, you know, all of these sanctions have been put in place in response to Russia's aggression. And so, before we start talking about what sanctions are going to be lifted, what needs to happen is they need to stop that.
So it's not time bound. These are sanctions -- most of these sanctions are done by executive order, and they can be withdrawn when appropriate. But right now, we're nowhere near that phase because of what Russia is continuing to do.
I'm just going to go back and forth.
Q: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. I know this has been talked about over, and you mentioned, in the last 24 hours. I guess to just be straight with it -- I mean, if going into meetings like this, the recent, kind of, debate around providing jets to Ukraine, is that's something that you need to just acknowledge in these meetings kind of early on, point to other means that the United States is, kind of, providing assistance? Or, you know, do you let John Kirby and the Pentagon address it and you completely focus on, you know, other means here? It seems like this is something you had to address today.
And then, just because I'm the pool reporter, I have a question from another reporter who's not here.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. This is something you address. It's obviously been out there. It's a serious and legitimate issue to discuss. We've been discussing for some time the best ways to provide security assistance to the Ukrainians. So the Vice President did discuss it with her counterparts, with the President.
But you mentioned, you know, John Kirby, who addressed it pretty clearly on behalf of the U.S. government, and so did the European Command Commander, General Walters.
So I think the U.S. position is clear. And that enabled the Vice President and the President of Poland to focus on what I said has been a big discussion between us for some time, which is how do we best help the Ukrainians. And there are lots of different ways to do that, and different partners have come up with different ideas. They've all been discussed.
That one that you're referring to was examined, discussed in military channels, and we clarified where we stand on it. And what was productive about these meetings for the Vice President was the opportunity to talk with the Poles about how do we accomplish what we agree on, which is helping the Ukrainians defend themselves against a Russian invasion with, you know, armor and tanks and airplanes.
And we're doing a lot of that already, and we're going to do more of it. And this was a real opportunity for her to talk directly to him about how to do that.
Q: And then just, also, you mentioned that they discussed additional -- this is my question, and then I'll go to the pool one -- but you mentioned that they discussed also additional steps moving forward.
I'm just wondering, is it -- what is currently in the U.S. reserve when it comes to, kind of, additional economic penalties that are still on the table for Russia? And is the thought that Putin at this point, you know, cares about those penalties, that it will actually deter any advancement?
And then just second to that, this is from the pool: Vice -- former Vice President Pence is also on the border today. And there's questions, as well, about whether or not your team has been in contact with him at all as he's also been in the region.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we haven't been.
And as to your first question, there's plenty still that could be done.
First, I'll say I think we have been very effective so far with what we have done in having an impact on the Russian economy. And you heard the Vice President talk about that today. The ruble has collapsed. Their debt is classified as "junk." Economists are predicting a severe recession in Russia. Companies, even unsanctioned companies, are fleeing left and right, just because Russia has been so toxic and nobody wants to do business there.
And I think that probably comes as a surprise to the Russians; they didn't believe that the consequences would be so great.
And that's important here, because we've said that one of the outcomes of this, because of Putin's aggression, has to be a strategic defeat for Russia. We didn't prevent Russia from using force against Ukraine, but we are and we can and we will make Russia pay a real price for it. And so what we have done so far has already had a real impact.
And we have said and you've heard the Vice President say, and it's already true, we are emerging stronger -- and by "we," I mean the United States and Europe, including Poland -- and Russia is emerging weaker.
So I won't list for you the various other sanctions that could be applied. But there's more that can be done. I think we're already doing things that people didn't think we would do. And we're only a couple of weeks into this.
So there's plenty more to exact an even greater price on Russia if they keep doing what we've seen with each passing day.
AIDE: Let's go for, like, six more minutes. So why don't we do Noah, Aamer, and then Nandita. And then --
Q: Just back to her role, if I can.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yep.
Q: You mentioned, you know, that she's been involved in this engagement. What, at her level, can she do that Antony Blinken can't do? And, you know, sort of, why is -- why is Biden himself not traveling right now? Why is she the one doing it?
And then last, on the same vein, is: What specific measures have the Polish leaders asked that she bring back to Biden to get -- you know, to -- that they made a case and said, "You know, this is specifically what we want. Can you ask the President if we can have it?"
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the first, it's not a question of, you know, what some people can do that others can't do. This is an enormous enterprise. You know, we've got 29 NATO Allies. I've described that this is a campaign that has military and security elements and humanitarian elements and financial elements. And I've described an approach of trying to coordinate with partners -- not just in Europe, not just our NATO and European allies, but all around the world.
We've been talking to Asian partners about this. We worked with countries in the General Assembly and got 141 of them to vote with us. This is a global campaign that's going to go on for some time.
It is also a unified whole-of-government approach. This is not, you know, certain U.S. officials doing their thing and others doing their thing. I think we've been very deliberately coordinated as a government.
And so, you know, this question came up when we were in Munich together with the Vice President and Secretary Blinken, both having multiple meetings while staying in close coordination with each other and with Washington. And the same was true on this trip.
The Vice President and Secretary Blinken spoke by phone the day before she left. So he was just finishing a European tour; went to the Baltic states, Moldova, elsewhere. And as he was completing that, he downloaded that, read that out, compared notes with the Vice President, just as she was about to leave for here.
The same morning, while we were on the plane flying to Warsaw, the President met with other national security officials in Washington and then called the Vice President on the phone to stay coordinated as we were handling the issue of the U.S. relationship with Poland and security assistance to the Ukrainians.
And throughout, she and her team have been in touch with Secretary Blinken and his team, Secretary Austin and his team, the President, Jake Sullivan, and so many others.
So this is -- you know, that's why she's been to Europe three times lately. That's why she's been making a lot of calls. That's why she's had all these meetings, as have Secretaries Blinken, Austin, and many others.
So it really is a united, coordinated approach and a necessary one, because there's so much to do. Even with all this engagement, we feel, you know, there's more conversations to be had, more countries to engage with, because what results from that is this unified approach that I've been describing that has managed to support the Ukrainians way more than people expected and punish the Russians more.
I know we need to be brief because there are other questions. You asked what the Poles want that --
Q: Yeah, if they had specific asks that they gave to her to bring back to deliberate with the President.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think -- I mean, you know, you're quite familiar with the Poles' interests, but they align very much with ours. They want to do everything we possibly can to support the Ukrainians in their efforts to defend themselves against the Russian aggression. So they talked to us about what we are doing and can do, and they want to make Putin pay a price.
So what more can we do on sanctions? And, you know, in that sense, it's pushing on an open door, because those are exactly the goals that that we described. But Poland being on the frontlines is, you know, unsurprisingly, really keen to see all of that advance.
Q: On Poland, the Vice President obviously -- today she was pretty effusive of all that they've done thus far.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q: Are they maxing -- is there concerns, in sort of talking about in the granularity of when do they get to their max point of what they can do? Because they have done a lot.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On refugees you're talking about.
Q: On refugees. And, you know, they specifically asked, I think, for some processing of Ukrainians with American ties, if that was something that could be done.
And then, finally, if you could just point towards tomorrow, as well, what the message will be in Romania, and just -- I imagine even beyond Romania, to Moldova and some of these countries that are some smaller and poorer Eastern European countries that are worried about what lies ahead for them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. So, yeah, she was effusive in her praise of what Poland has been doing on refugees. I mean, what we've seen here in such a short period of time, the numbers are really shocking. And the way the Poles have received them and the generosity they've shown and the resources they put to it have all been really impressive.
And, you know, she also came signaling that our Congress is prepared to devote more American resources to help them, because you're right, they're asking for assistance.
So I don't know that we have an answer to how much they can bear. If all of this has happened in just a couple of weeks, there is real concern that numbers grow and grow if this conflict goes on.
But that's just, you know, one more reason we need solidarity throughout the Alliance, among Europeans, and why we're stepping up and helping them in the ways that I announced with the humanitarian assistance that she announced just today -- because we need solidarity all around, including helping the frontline states. And it's not just Poland; there are the most in Poland, but I mentioned Romania, Slovakia, the Baltic states. This is going to be an issue for all of them going forward.
Tomorrow, before departing, she will meet U.S. and Polish troops here, which is -- again, you know, I mentioned the importance of paying tribute to our embassy workers that have been through so much on the frontlines, and goodness knows that's true for troops who've had to deploy and face, you know, real security concerns.
And then, in Romania, she'll meet President Iohannis, and there will be a chance to discuss not just the U.S.-Romania relationship, but all of these issues, because Romania is also a frontline state. Differences with Poland -- in particular, the issue of the Black Sea, where they have very serious concerns about Russian activities and naval presence there.
And, you know, Romania is another country where we're stepping up and providing not just humanitarian assistance, not just coordinating on Ukraine, but we've deployed a Stryker squadron and some 1,000 associated U.S. troops there as part of our effort to shore up the whole eastern flank.
So it's a similar set of messages about NATO solidarity and solidarity in helping the Ukrainian people.
Q: Thank you. I just had a quick question on what the White House has been saying in the past couple of days about chemical weapons and the fact that Putin could potentially use chemical weapons to attack Ukraine.
And if that were to happen, though, I mean, would the U.S. and NATO, you know, respond? I mean, would it sort of change the U.S. and NATO's commitment to not, you know, get involved in the war? And, I mean, at what point would you draw sort of a red line? I mean, we saw, you know, missile strikes that were ordered during the Syrian attack. Is there a point like that in this conflict that you're thinking about? If you can talk on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'll just say it is obviously a serious concern. We've seen Russia use chemicals, if not necessarily in warfare, in other ways. And we know that they have stockpiles. So it is something that we're worried about.
We've seen Russian disinformation about concerns of others using chemical weapons. And we're also keeping an eye on that too -- a sort of false flag or, you know, accusing others of doing something like that, which is, again, sadly, things we have seen before.
So it's very serious. We take it seriously. But let me be clear: You don't have to wait to see the use of chemical weapons to be clear about what Russia is doing already with the missile strikes and the invasion of Ukraine. So it is already a serious issue that merits the response that we've shown in terms of making, as I said before, Putin pay a very serious price. And we're going to keep supporting the Ukrainian people against whatever form of aggression Russia continues to throw at it.
Q: (Inaudible) at any point you would consider perhaps, you know, changing the commitment of not getting involved? Would U.S. and NATO at any point respond?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are involved in all of the ways that I just described. I think the President has been pretty clear about not engaging in direct military conflict with Russia, not putting troops into Ukraine. But he's also been pretty clear about our determination to make Russia pay a price for that and to continue to provide assistance to Ukraine. And that's why the Vice President is here to make sure that we can do that in an effective way. And I think she has been very effective in doing it in the talks so far.
Q: And I had a quick follow-up on what Aamer was asking. Sorry. Just -- just a quick little follow-up on Moldova. I mean, there seems to be, you know, some intel reports on Russian separatists kind of moving in there. I mean, is there -- are you tracking that? I mean, of course, you are, but to what extent can you share anything on threat levels to Moldova?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have anything further to add from what you're seeing.
We're going to take Asma's last question and then wrap.
Q: Sure. I actually just had a follow-up also to what Aamer had been asking.
Q: Really great questions. (Laughter.)
Q: On refugees. And I guess I wanted to ask in particular, again, on the specific ask that was made today from the Polish president about expediting the assistance of just at least Ukrainian American -- I'm sorry, Ukrainians who have relatives in the United States. Is there any discussion, I guess, of what could be done to expedite that process? That sounded like a specific ask.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, when the Polish president raises this specific issue, of course there'll be discussion and we'll take it back. I think the Vice President described what we are doing. I mentioned that, tragically, we expect this refugee crisis to grow. I don't think there's going to be any miracles that's going to prevent that.
So, you know, in the first instance, like I said, we are showing up even now with additional assistance to countries like Poland where the majority of the refugees are. But obviously this is a dynamic situation, and we'll have to keep watching.
Q: Does that include visa waivers or any kind of specific allocation out of the refugee cap specifically for the Christian minority group, or kind of Ukrainian specifically?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have anything on that. And again, just to remind we're in the very early phases of this and understand the gravity of the situation.
Q: Do you envision -- I'm just curious -- a situation where there will be camps set up here in Poland? I know that the president of Poland today was very proud in saying that there are not camps. People are at homes or people are at hotels. But he also expressed concern about being -- I just wonder whether there were conversations (inaudible).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't speculate. Again, we're a little over two weeks into this. I think he was rightly proud of that, and it shows the generosity of the Polish people in welcoming, in many cases, just strangers into their homes. I think in most other cases where you've had a million refugees, like by necessity, you have to set up camps because there's no alternative to it. But if numbers continue to grow, then then that's something Poland is going to have to grapple with.
AIDE: All right, thank you, everybody.
Kamala Harris, Background Press Briefing on the Vice President's Meetings in Poland and Romania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354869