United States Vice President Kamala Harris will appear at the Munich Security Conference next week to rally European allies against a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, the White House announced on Wednesday.
Harris will give a key speech outlining US policy toward Ukraine and re-asserting America’s commitment to its NATO allies. She will also meet one-on-one with EU and NATO leaders to forge a united front against Russia’s military build-up around Ukraine.
The annual conference, organised by Western nations during the Cold War to discuss military conflicts, gathers about 350 senior figures, from dozens of countries at a traditional venue in Germany.
“Munich will demonstrate our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies, reaffirm our shared interest in upholding the principles that have underpinned European peace, and security since World War II and underscore our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Sabrina Singh, deputy press secretary for the vice president.
Harris’s trip intensifies US engagement with allies and partners in Europe as Russia continues to amass some 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border and asserts its naval power. Moscow has denied planning an invasion but US officials said an attack could occur within days or weeks.
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin warned for the second time in a week that European countries would automatically be drawn into a war with Russia in which “there will be no winners” if Ukraine joined NATO and then tried to recapture the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized in 2014.
President Joe Biden has threatened to impose the most severe sanctions ever levied against Russia if it sends troops across the border, but is also emphasising diplomacy as the best way to address Moscow’s stated security concerns.
In a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday, Biden declared that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that supplies Russian natural gas to Germany would be halted if Russia invades Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the president has approved a Pentagon plan to use US troops in Poland to help evacuate American citizens who would likely be forced out of Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. There are as many as 30,000 Americans who have been living and working in Ukraine.
Elements of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Corp being deployed to Poland will set up tent camps near the border with Ukraine to temporarily house Americans. The troops are not being deployed to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, and would not conduct missions there, the Journal reported, citing unnamed US officials.
The Pentagon has not publicly disclosed any plans to use US troops for evacuations.
Harris’s effectiveness on a range of issues at home has been criticised, especially by opposition Republicans. But on the global stage, she has been greeted as a trailblazer – a rare female leader from the US, according to Reuters.
Biden has regularly urged his vice president to engage with foreign leaders directly and develop her own rapport with key US partners, White House officials have said.
“The vice president is starting to, more clearly and publicly, demonstrate how she is a key player in executing our foreign policy across the board,” a White House official told Reuters.
The vice president has sought to establish foreign policy credentials in phone calls with foreign leaders and in travel to Central America, Asia and Europe to advance administration priorities, including reducing migration from Central America into the US and bolstering international support to counter China’s growing global influence.
The Munich trip will be Harris’s highest-profile foreign trip yet. The meeting was held virtually in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s conference will take place unperson on February 18-20 in Munich.
Biden has frequented the conference in past as a senator and vice president. Last year, he addressed the conference virtually and declared an end to the era of “America-first” diplomacy under his predecessor Donald Trump.