Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to Europe today on a diplomatic mission at a critical time when the war in Ukraine pushes NATO allies toward confrontation with Russia.
Harris has meetings scheduled in Poland and Romania over the next two days. Both countries border Ukraine, are NATO members and have taken in thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. But as bad as the situation in Europe already was, the Associated Press reports that Harris’ trip got more complicated on Tuesday because of confusion over possible plans to supply the Ukrainians with warplanes while keeping other countries from getting drawn into war with Russia.
From the AP
The Polish government on Tuesday came out with a plan to transfer its Russian-made fighter planes to a U.S. military base in Germany, with the expectation that the planes would then be handed over to Ukrainian pilots trying to fend off Russian forces. In turn, the U.S. would supply Poland with U.S.-made jets with “corresponding capabilities.”
But the Poles didn’t run that idea past the Biden administration before going public with it, and the Pentagon quickly dismissed the idea as not tenable. Warplanes flying from a U.S. and NATO base into airspace contested with Russia would raise the risk of the war expanding beyond Ukraine.
Now it’s up to Harris to try to clean up the mess. The Biden Administration has expressed general support for the idea of helping arm the Ukrainian military and civilian resistance fighters alongside its strategy of economically isolating Russia. But it’s a strategy that’s extra risky: Russian President Vladamir Putin has made veiled references to his nuclear arsenal in recent weeks while warning other nations that he considers support of Ukraine–economically or otherwise–an act of war. At the same time, Biden and Harris have to figure out how much financial pain Americans will tolerate with inflation at its highest point in decades and gas prices higher than ever.
Biden announced Tuesday that he was banning imports of Russian oil and gas while U.S. gasoline prices hit an average of $4.25 a gallon, according to AAA.
Harris’ trip is also a signal of a continuing expansion of in her role in the Biden White House even as conservatives attack her. A former California attorney general and U.S. senator, she had little foreign policy experience before becoming vice president last year. But today’s trip marks her second time leading a diplomatic mission over the Ukrainian conflict in the last month.
Harris was instrumental in Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, and could be in position to cast a historic, tie-breaking vote in the Senate to seal her confirmation.