Kamala Harris photo

Background Press Call on the Vice President's Upcoming Travel to Eastern Europe

March 08, 2022

Via Teleconference

8:37 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Thank you. And thank you, everyone, for joining.

Just to set the ground rules, this call is on background, attributed to "senior administration officials." The contents of the call will be embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time, on Wednesday, March 9th. And by joining this call, you are agreeing to those ground rules.

Just for your awareness, not for reporting, our speakers today -- you have [senior administration officials]. They'll offer some brief opening remarks, and then we'll open it up for a few questions.

So I'll turn it over to my colleague, speaker number one. Over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks very much. And really pleased to have this opportunity to chat with everyone.

As you all know well, we have entered a really pivotal phase since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24. We have had 13 days of watching this brutal activity.

It's against that backdrop that the Vice President is traveling to Poland and Romania. And while she is there, she will use this trip to, one, demonstrate the strength and unity of our NATO Allies and, in fact, much of the world in the face of Russia's wholly unjustified aggression, and, two, to coordinate very closely with Allies as we determine next steps in our response Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Really, she will be carrying a three-part message. The first is that the U.S. stands firmly and resolutely with our NATO Allies. And that is both the bedrock Article 5 commitment, as well as the very tangible demonstration that you have seen, in terms of U.S. and NATO reinforcements to our Allies along the eastern flank.

Second is our continuing support for the Ukrainian people, both in terms of humanitarian and military assistance to them. And third is the fact that Putin has made a mistake that will result in resounding strategic defeat for Russia. And you're already seeing evidence of that in terms of what's going on inside Ukraine as well as the impact of the sanctions that we have imposed on the Russian economy.

Now, this trip by the Vice President follows a number of engagements that she has had in recent weeks on our Allies and partners in the midst of -- in the leadup to and in the midst of this crisis, with a particular focus on our eastern flank NATO Allies.

In Munich, last month, just a few weeks ago, she met with the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, as well as a number of other NATO Allies.

Last week, she spoke on the phone with the Prime Ministers from Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

And now, this trip to the eastern flank is further support to our Allies and is also an extremely important opportunity to collaborate with them on next steps in responding to Russian aggression.

In terms of her schedule, on Thursday, she will be in Warsaw and will hold bilateral meetings with Polish President Duda, as well as the Polish Prime Minister.

She will also have a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, who will also be in Warsaw at the same time.

In addition to those leader meetings, she will also have an opportunity to engage with people who have fled the violence in Ukraine. And she will also meet with Embassy Warsaw staff as well as Embassy Kyiv staff who have relocated to Poland, and will discuss with them their ongoing work to support the people of Ukraine, refugees who have come out of that country, as well as American citizens.

On Friday, before departing Warsaw, she will meet with both U.S. and Polish service members to thank them for the extraordinary service that they are providing to their countries and to the entire Alliance, and express support for the vital mission that they are performing that is enhancing deterrence and protecting our collective defense.

After Warsaw, the Vice President will then travel to Bucharest, Romania. And while there, she will have a bilateral meeting with President Iohannis and will also meet with Embassy Bucharest staff before departing to return back to Washington.

With that, let me turn it over to my colleague to discuss the issues that will be on the agenda in some of these meetings.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. And thanks to everyone for joining.

I will talk about the issues that she will raise in these meetings. And I guess I'll start with the point that: We've seen, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the United States and the world take a number of really strong and really unified actions.

And it's the "unified" that I stress because I think the alliance -- the U.S.-Europe alliance – has, in fact, been remarkably unified in its response to Russian aggression, whether it's a question of NATO force posture adjustments to make sure that NATO can defend its territory; whether it's support for the Ukrainian people -- security, humanitarian, financial; or whether it's making Russia pay a price.

And in all of those levels, we've seen a very strong degree of U.S.-European unity. And that's going to be a core part of this trip, which is to continue the process of close coordination with close allies.

And so, while in Poland and Romania, the Vice President will discuss all of the steps we've already taken together. But equally importantly, focus on how we move forward together and make sure that we continue to stay aligned. So, a lot of our discussions in these two capitals will be about establishing next steps in the categories that I've mentioned and how we move the ball forward.

In both countries -- I'll just give you the sort of categories we expect her to focus on. One we've already made an allusion to is reinforcing NATO Allies. As you know, we've already done that significantly with some 10,000 additional troops to Europe overall, and many of them deployed further east, including 5,000 -- or nearly 5,000 in Poland and 1,000 in Romania -- the two countries she is visiting.

And so, she will engage with both of those Allies on these and other force posture adjustments to make sure we can continue to strengthen NATO's deterrence and defense.

Secondly, supporting the people of Ukraine with humanitarian and other assistance. And she'll talk with the leaders of these two countries about what's needed to continue to support Ukraine and its neighbors, including them -- Poland, Romania -- but also the rest of the region, and also how to continue to get assistance into Ukraine.

Third, supporting Ukraine with security assistance, which, as noted, we have collectively already done a lot of, I think, to important effect on the ground. And the Vice President will discuss our work together with our Allies and partners of how we take that forward and continue to support these Ukrainians who are really inspiring us and many around the world with their bravery in defending their country. And so, we're going to talk about -- with these frontline states -- how we can continue to do that most effectively.

Fourth, how we can impose severe economic costs on Russia. [Senior administration official] already alluded to that effort of standing up and make sure that this is a strategic defeat for Russia. We are doing that. And part of the way in which we're doing it is the sanctions that we have imposed together with our European partners.

And as we've seen -- as you've seen, those have been financial sanctions, export controls, measures against Russian oligarchs supporting Putin; closing airspace -- which we and the Europeans both have done -- to Russian aviation; and then as recently as this morning, the President announcing the ban on importing Russian oil.

So, the Vice President will coordinate with these close Allies about how we continue to do that -- to effectively implement these sanctions. But also, at the same time, to mitigate the effect on the U.S. and Polish and Romanian people and people across Europe as well.

Finally -- but not least, because this is something important to the Vice President and all of us -- defending international rules and norms.

And you heard the Vice President talk about this at the Munich Security Conference -- the notion that the world in recent decades has come together to stand up for certain basic principles of freedom and peace and security that brought the United States and Europe peace and stability since World War Two in unprecedented ways, and how much that is under threat from Russia's unjustified and unnecessary invasion of Ukraine.

And so, she'll want to coordinate with these close Allies on how we stay united in defense of those principles.

Those I think will be some of the main themes. It's a lot, but they're all really important.

And with that, we'll pause and take a few questions. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thank you to our speaker. And if we could reiterate the instructions for asking a question.

Q: Thank you. There was obviously differences today with Poland over the proposal on the MiGs. So I was wondering to what extent she'll be talking to the leaders about options -- taking other options to get fighter jets to Ukraine.

And if you could offer any texture about what happened today. Why did Poland go public with our idea before talking directly with the administration first? And is that going to be an issue with the talks? Will this loom over the talks in any ways?

And finally, this Poland issue is kind of hot now. If I could just request that removing, on the MiGs issue -- if you can remove the embargo now and make that usable, that would be helpful. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks, I'll just jump in. We're going to maintain the embargo time to preview the Vice President's trip, but I'll turn it over to our speakers to answer on embargo.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, okay. Thanks, Aamer. Appreciate the question. A couple of things that I would share. So, you have seen the statement that came out of the Pentagon. We have been in dialogue with the Poles for some time about how best to 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.

This is a key priority for us and for all of our NATO Allies. And so we expect that we will continue talking about how to achieve this really important objective. And the -- you know, a number of people have had a variety of ideas, and we think all of them are worth discussing. And that's what we're going to continue doing.

Q: Hi, there. Thank you, guys, for doing this. I just want to -- my first question is: Is the Vice President bringing with her any deliverables that the Polish president asked? (Inaudible) Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, would he meet with him?

And also, if you could give us any insight into how the Vice President has been preparing at this really -- into this this pressure point that we all find ourselves in as she heads on the trip? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Super. I'll start but also invite my colleague to jump in.

On the issue of deliverables, I don't have anything to offer you now.

But in terms of the Vice President's preparation, she has really been immersed in this issue, as has the President and the rest of the national security team, working intensively on a daily basis on all of the issues that are related to the ongoing crisis resulting from the Russian invasion.

So there have been a number of specific sessions focused on these countries, briefings, discussions with experts. But it is part of a broader effort in terms of managing the crisis and dealing with a myriad of issues that have come up and that have required very senior-level attention from this administration.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll just add one word on the preparation, and I can just say one thing about deliverables in general. But just -- it's not just the deep preparation that she has done, like in the course of this week, for this trip. But just to remind: 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 a potential Russian buildup. So she has been focused on this issue for some time. And then, of course, the next trip to Munich, which was just a couple of weeks ago, and numerous bilats and engagements on this issue. And then the phone calls that [senior administration official] mentioned.

The point being: It's not just extensive preparation for this particular trip, but the past couple of months have all been very much focused on what has, you know, tragically become a defining issue for the entire administration.

Deliverables. We don't have anything to announce on this call. But I just want to stress that we, collectively with our Allies, as I think we noted earlier, have been delivering a lot in these different categories and delivering force posture adjustments to make sure that NATO is prepared, delivering vast amounts of security and humanitarian financial assistance to Ukraine, and delivering on our promise to make Putin pay a price if he actually went ahead with this invasion.

So there's a lot of that that has already taken place. And as I mentioned in my opening remarks, this visit -- these visits are about coordinating to continue to deliver on all those fronts.

Q: Hi. Thank you all. I think, [senior administration official], this is something you had mentioned but, [senior administration official], maybe you as well. You specifically highlighted the fact that the Vice President will be focusing on next steps to take in coordination with Allies. And I wonder if you can be a little bit more specific about what exactly that means. I guess I look at sanctions, export controls. What is really left on the table, in terms of next steps?


Q: To put pressure (inaudible). Yeah, go ahead.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, no. Understood. Understood, Asma. And thanks for that. A couple of things. You all are well aware that this is a very fluid, very dynamic situation. Daily, hourly, we are assessing the situation on the ground, looking to respond as we go.

[Senior administration official] noted that we'd already taken a number of punitive measures against Russia to include earlier today with the President's announcement on the ban of imports of Russian oil.

And so, going forward, we want to stay in lockstep with our Allies but also make sure that we are being responsive to changes and making sure that we are sending a very, very clear message that Putin will pay a very heavy price and that he will see the very negative implications of this invasion.

As the President said earlier, there will be no victory in Ukrai- -- Russia will have no victory in Ukraine, and the strategic defeat that he is facing is going to be profound.

[Senior administration official], do you want to jump in on any other steps there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think you made the core point, [senior administration official], about how -- just how dynamic the situation is. You know, we're only a couple of weeks into this conflict. We know that every single day brings a new -- a new set of issues to deal with.

And so, you know, whether it's refugees or delivering humanitarian assistance or the dynamic military picture on the ground, we are just committed to what I described as, I think, very successful coordination and unity, which has been our strength in this conflict.

So I think by just emphasizing next steps, we're just emphasizing that as proud as we are of what we've done together as an Alliance so far, we are very conscious that there are many challenges ahead and that a key to succeeding in facing those challenges is that we continue to work with all of our partners but especially those who are on the frontlines, like these two countries.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. I want to go back to the issue of the fighter jets -- post-Soviet fighter jets. Were you expecting a statement from the Polish government about those aircrafts a day before the trip of the Vice President? And will this issue be discussed during the meetings of the Vice President with the Prime Minister and the President of Poland?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, Marcin. Thanks for that. As I think I mentioned earlier, we have been in conversations with the Poles, as well as with all of our Allies, about how best to get security assistance into Ukraine, what are the things that can be most helpful. And we do expect that that conversation will continue both during the Vice President's visit but as we take things forward.

This is not a one-and-done situation. We have been discussing it across the board, and we will absolutely continue to do so.

And as I said earlier, there are a lot of ideas on the table. As you've seen from the Pentagon statement, it is our judgment that this one is not a tenable one. But we want and certainly are encouraging all Allies to bring ideas forward and for us to stay in very close coordination across the board.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have. But thank you to our speakers. And thank you for joining us.

Again, this call is on background, attributed to "senior administration officials." And it's embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern, Wednesday, March 9th.

Thank you all and have a good night.


END 8:58 P.M. EST

Kamala Harris, Background Press Call on the Vice President's Upcoming Travel to Eastern Europe Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354825

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