Ukraine is ‘defending all of Europe,’ Zelensky tells Kamala Harris

The US vice president met with the Ukrainian leader in a rare public appearance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked US Vice President Kamala Harris for Washington’s support amid the standoff between Moscow and the West over his country. However, Zelensky called multiple times on the US to make more concrete commitments to Kiev.

Speaking before a closed-doors meeting with Harris at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, Zelensky said that he is “very grateful to the United States,” which has ramped up military aid to Ukraine in recent weeks, and vowed to sanction Moscow should Russian President Vladimir Putin invade the country.

Ukraine’s army, he added, is “defending all of Europe.”

While Zelensky’s statement implies that Russia poses a military threat to all of Europe, the Biden administration still insists it would not respond to a hypothetical Russian invasion with American boots on the ground in Ukraine. Speaking alongside Zelensky on Saturday, Harris offered no departure from this policy, instead threatening Russia with “swift and severe economic sanctions.”

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For Harris, who is widely criticized as inexperienced in the arena of foreign policy, the trip to Munich is the most important event on her calendar so far this year. In recent weeks, Harris has been seen only at minor events in Washington, and has made just two trips outside the capital, to New Jersey and California.

US officials have predicted several possible start dates for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, all of which have thus far passed without incident. In a separate speech on Saturday, Zelensky seemingly expressed frustration with Washington’s predictions. 

“To help Ukraine, there is no need to constantly talk about possible invasion dates,” he said. "You're telling me that it's 100% that the war will start in a couple of days. Then what [are you] waiting for?” he added, calling on Western leaders to sanction Russian before the outbreak of hostilities.

Russia has given zero indication that it plans on invading Ukraine, and dismissed Washington’s failed predictions, which have come from as high as President Joe Biden himself, as “hysteria” and “fake news.”

Nevertheless, violence has flared up in eastern Ukraine. After 24 hours of heavy shelling targeting the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, leaders from both sides accused one another of firing first. At least two artillery shells landed in Russia, but Moscow has not declared who it thinks is responsible, and has launched an investigation.

Kiev denies harboring any plans to retake Donetsk or Lugansk by force, and Zelensky insisted on Saturday that Ukraine is “longing for peace.” However, Moscow has called on Ukraine to achieve this peace by abiding by the 2015 Minsk agreements, which call for a permanent ceasefire and some autonomy for the breakaway regions. 

Western leaders have called on Putin to withdraw troops stationed within Russia near Ukraine’s borders, but have refused to take NATO membership for Ukraine off the table, despite Moscow for decades insisting that the alliance on its doorstep would present an unacceptable security risk.

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