MUNICH (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris warned Russia on Saturday that it would face “unprecedented” financial sanctions if he invades Ukraine and predicted that such an attack would bring European allies closer to the United States. The world is at a “crucial moment in history,” she told Ukraine’s president, who said he just wants peace for his nation.
Harris spoke at the annual Munich Security Conference the next day President Joe Biden He said he was “convinced” that Russian Vladimir Putin had decided to invade neighboring Ukraine.
“Let me be clear, I can say with absolute certainty that if Russia continues to invade Ukraine, the United States, along with our allies and partners, will incur significant and unprecedented economic costs,” Harris said.
Harris sought to convey to a predominantly European audience that the West has “power through unity” and that the invasion is likely to lead to an even greater NATO presence on Russia’s doorstep.
Later, at the beginning of the meeting with the leader of Ukraine, Harris called it “a crucial moment in history” and told Vladimir Zelensky: “We take any threat to your country seriously.” He replied: “We understand exactly what is happening. This is our land. We want peace. “
He also said he needed Western allies to take “concrete steps”, alluding to Ukraine’s requests for even more military and economic assistance. Zelensky also noted that with Russian troops near the borders of his country, the Ukrainian army will actually “protect the whole of Europe.”
Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, and pro-Russian separatists have been at war with Ukrainian forces in the east for almost eight years. Earlier, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions against Russia for seizing Crimea.
The West’s fears of an invasion have intensified in recent months as Russia has amassed more than 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.
Harris said the Biden administration, along with its allies, had tried to work in good faith with Moscow to find a diplomatic solution, but the Kremlin did not reciprocate.
“Russia continues to say it is ready for talks, and at the same time it is narrowing the way for diplomacy,” Harris said. “Their actions just don’t match their words.”
Harris credited the European allies for speaking out largely in unison during the recent crisis in Ukraine. The vice president said Republicans and Democrats in Washington – who rarely agree on many important issues – generally agree with the need to oppose Putin.
“We didn’t all start in one place,” Harris said. “We have gathered and now speak with one voice. And this voice was a function not only of dialogue and debate, of some concessions, but also of the practical realization of the moment we are in, namely that we are looking at a sovereign nation that may well be on the verge of invasion again. ”
Harris met in Munich on Friday with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who stressed the need to increase the presence of US troops on NATO’s eastern border.
The White House has not yet said it will comply with the requests, but Harris said in a statement on Saturday that the invasion could boost the U.S. presence.
“The introduction of these broad and coordinated measures will do great harm to those who should be held accountable. And we will not dwell on economic measures, ”Harris said. “We will continue to strengthen our NATO allies on the eastern flank.”
Biden and other U.S. officials have issued increasingly serious warnings that the window for diplomacy is narrow.
Biden told reporters on Friday that he thought Putin had decided to invade in the coming days by launching hostilities that could go far beyond the disputed Donbass region in eastern Ukraine and include the capital, Kyiv.
On Saturday, the vice president was to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Harris noted in her statement that the Munich Conference “has not convened in such difficult circumstances” “not since the end of the Cold War.”