WARSAW, Poland (AP) – US Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday adopted calls for an international investigation into war crimes against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, citing the “atrocities” of the bombing of civilians, including a maternity hospital..
Speaking alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda at a news conference in Warsaw, where she shows US support for eastern NATO allies, Harris expressed outrage over Wednesday’s maternity hospital bombing and scenes of pregnant women being evacuated in blood, as well as other attacks. on civilians. It stopped short of directly accusing Russia of war crimes.
“There definitely has to be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” Harris said, noting that the United Nations had already begun a process to review the allegations. “I have no doubt that the eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in connection with this aggression and these atrocities.”
Harris’ visit to Poland came amid a row between Warsaw and Washington over a Polish proposal to send Soviet-made fighter jets to a US and NATO base in Germany so they could then go to Ukraine. Poland, in turn, will receive American F-16s.
Poland floated the proposal publicly without first consulting the United States Just as Harris arrived in Warsaw late Wednesday, the Pentagon dismissed the idea outright, saying it would risk escalating the Russo-Ukrainian war.
At Thursday’s press conference, both Harris and Duda sought to set aside differences over the issue of combat aircraft.
“I want to be very clear, the United States and Poland are united in what we’ve done and are ready to do to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, a complete stop,” she said.
Duda, for his part, sidestepped questions about why Poland announced its proposal without first consulting the United States. He stressed that his government’s intention was motivated by the desire of “NATO as a whole to take a joint decision” on this issue.
“In short, we have to be a responsible member of NATO,” Duda said.
Harris’ embrace of the war crimes investigation came after the Biden administration warned on Wednesday that Russia may seek to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine as the White House dismissed Russian allegations of developing illegal chemical weapons in the invaded country.
The White House raised the idea after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused – without evidence – Ukraine of running chemical and biological weapons laboratories with US backing.
Last week, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced that he had launched an investigation It could target senior officials believed to be responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide amid a high civilian death toll and widespread destruction of property during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But investigations at the ICC take many years, and relatively few convictions have been won. The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The crime of aggression, which cannot be investigated in Ukraine because neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the court, was added later.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the hospital bombing “horrific” and said the United States was going through a “legal review process” to determine whether it would consider the bombing a war crime.
“It is clear to us that the Russians in Ukraine are committing war crimes,” Duda said. In his view, he added, the invasion “has the hallmarks of genocide – it aims to eliminate and destroy a nation.”
Harris praised the Polish people for their generosity in receiving nearly 1.5 million refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine Last month.
Harris said earlier during a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hours after the US House of Representatives passed the spending bill resolution Including $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine and its European allies.
The legislation includes $6.8 billion to sponsor refugees and other economic aid to allies.
On Thursday, Harris met with seven refugees who have fled from Ukraine to Poland since the start of the Russian invasion. She praised the refugees for their “courage” and said the conversation would help inform US aid efforts. The group included a Ukrainian advocate for people with disabilities, a Moroccan university student, a professional film producer from Odessa, a Senegalese community leader and educator, a LGBTQIA+ rights activist from Kyiv, a Ukrainian energy expert and her adult daughter.
“We’re here to support you, and you’re not alone,” Harris told the group. “And I know there is so much about the experience that you went through that made you feel so lonely. You are not alone. We are all over the world watching.”
The vice president also met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while in Warsaw. The Canadian leader was in Europe in recent days to meet with allies over Ukraine. Trudeau credited the Biden administration with largely mobilizing a united Europe response.
“Vladimir Putin has underestimated the strength and resolve of the Ukrainian people,” Trudeau said. “But it also underestimated the strength and resolve of democracies to stand up in support of Ukraine, (and) in support of those values and principles that underlie everything we do.”
The White House described Harris’s quick visits to Poland and Romania as an opportunity for the vice president to consult with two leaders of eastern NATO countries about the growing humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Already, more than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine – with more than half arriving in Poland – and more are expected in the coming days.
Duda warned of a “refugee disaster” if Poland did not receive more help to house and feed Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. He said he asked Harris for the United States to “accelerate” the process for those Ukrainian refugees who want to go to the United States and might have family there.
“The United States is fully prepared to do what we can and must do to support Poland, with respect to the burden they have borne,” Harris said.
On Friday, Harris will travel to Bucharest, where she will meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Miller contributed from Washington. Associated Press writers Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to the report.
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