Kamala Harris supports call for Russia war crimes probe

US Vice President speaks of outrage over bombing of maternity hospital in Ukraine

US Vice President Kamala Harris is on a three-day trip to Poland and Romania for meetings about the war in Ukraine. AFP

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US Vice President Kamala Harris has embraced calls for an international war crimes investigation into Russia's invasion of Ukraine and bombing of civilian targets, including a maternity hospital.

Speaking alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda at a press conference in Warsaw, where she is demonstrating US support for Nato’s eastern flank allies, Ms Harris expressed outrage over the bombing on Wednesday of the hospital, as well as other attacks on civilians.

She stopped short of directly accusing Russia of having committed war crimes.

“Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” she said.

Polish President Andrzej Duda and US Vice President Kamala Harris shake hands after a news conference in Warsaw. Reuters

Mr Duda said: “It is obvious to us that in Ukraine Russians are committing war crimes”.

He added that in his view the invasion was “bearing the features of a genocide — it aims at eliminating and destroying a nation”.

Ms Harris praised the Polish people for their generosity for taking in nearly 1.5 million refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.

“I’ve been watching or reading about the work of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and so I bring you thanks from the American people,” Ms Harris said earlier during a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hours after the US House of Representatives passed a massive spending bill that includes billions in aid for Ukraine and its European allies.

Her whirlwind visit to Poland and Romania was billed by the White House as a chance for the vice president to consult with two of the leaders from eastern flank Nato nations about the growing humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.

Already, more than two million refugees have fled Ukraine — with more than half coming to Poland — and even more expected to arrive in the days ahead.

Mr Duda warned of a “refugee disaster” if Poland does not receive more assistance to help house and feed Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

He said he asked Ms Harris for the US to “speed up” the process for those Ukrainian refugees who would want to go to the US and might have family there.

“The United States is absolutely prepared to do what we can and what we must to support Poland, in terms of the burden that they have taken on,” she said.

But differences between Warsaw and Washington over a Polish plan to send Soviet-made fighter jets to a base in Germany for Ukraine’s use have cast a shadow over Ms Harris’s visit to Poland.

Just as she arrived in Warsaw on Wednesday evening, the Pentagon definitively rejected the idea.

The proposal was publicly floated by Poland — without first consulting the US — days after secretary of state Antony Blinken said the Biden administration was “very, very actively” looking at a proposal under which Ukraine’s neighbour Poland would supply Kyiv with Soviet-era fighters and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for their loss.

Polish government officials, however, insisted any transfer of planes must be done within the Nato framework.

“In a nutshell we have to be a responsible member of the North Atlantic Alliance,” said Mr Duda.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon shut the door on the prospect of Nato transferring jets to Ukraine, saying such a move with a US and Nato connection would run a “high risk” of escalating the Russia-Ukraine war.

Ms Harris, in her remarks, brushed aside any notion of tensions between Poland and the US over how to effectively support Ukraine.

“I want to be very clear, the United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to do to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, full stop,” she said.

Updated: March 11, 2022, 5:45 AM
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