MUNICH – Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday announced NATO unity during the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine and warned Russia that the United States and Western allies are ready to respond with harsh sanctions if President Vladimir Putin moves forward with the invasion of Ukraine.
At a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the annual Munich Security Conference, Harris thanked the alliance for “everything you have done” during the crisis.
“We are, of course, still open and we want diplomacy regarding the dialogue and discussions we have had with Russia, but we are also committed, if Russia takes aggressive action, to ensuring that it will have severe consequences in terms of sanctions that we discussed it, ”Harris told Stoltenberg. “And we know the alliance is strong in that regard.”
Harris and her top national security aides huddled with Stoltenberg after President Joe Biden warned in Washington on Thursday that “all indications” are that Russia is “ready to go to Ukraine, to attack Ukraine.”
Now, the United States estimates that Russia is likely to have 169,000 to 190,000 employees in and around Ukraine, up from about 100,000 on Jan. 30, said Michael Carpenter, the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
In addition to troops along the border, in neighboring Belarus and Crimea, he said, the assessment includes forces led by Russia in eastern Ukraine, as well as internal security units deployed in these areas. It was unclear whether these forces were included in the latest estimate of 150,000 troops.
Harris said she “deliberately” held her first meeting at the annual security conference with the NATO secretary general. The administration is trying to convey to Putin that the crisis has only strengthened the determination of a military alliance of 30 countries to resist Moscow’s aggression.
Stoltenberg reiterated Harris’s view on strengthening NATO unity during the crisis.
“I also welcome the fact that European allies are stepping up, also increasing their presence on the alliance’s eastern border and investing more in defense,” Stoltenberg said. “So the reality is that North America and Europe are doing more together now than we’ve done in years.”
American and European officials are ready for any attempt by Russia to create a basis for invasion. Officials are concerned that the escalation of shelling in the Donbas, a plot of land where Russian-backed separatists have fought the Ukrainian government for years, could be used by the Kremlin as a pretext for invading Ukraine.
Later Friday, Harris is scheduled to meet with Latvian President Egils Levits, Lithuanian President Gitanas Navseda and Estonian Prime Minister Kaya Kalas to discuss recent developments in Russia’s build-up on the border with Ukraine and US readiness to further strengthen NATO allies in the east. flanking the alliance, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The official, who is not authorized to make public comments, said Harris had planned to emphasize to Baltic leaders, who are closely monitoring the situation on the Ukrainian-Russian border, that the Biden administration is committed to NATO’s central principle: mutual protection.
Harris is scheduled to speak at a conference on Saturday that will focus on the crisis in Ukraine. Preparations for the speech went smoothly, but Harris is expected to emphasize the unity of NATO and Western allies in the face of the crisis in Ukraine, a spokesman for the administration said.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Biden planned to talk on the phone with transatlantic leaders about building up Russia’s military and long-term containment and diplomacy efforts.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was also in Munich on Friday, where he met with his counterparts from the UK, France and Germany. Blinken is also scheduled to meet one-on-one with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
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