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19 Feb, 2022 19:00

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

The US vice president met with the Ukrainian leader in a rare public appearance
Ukraine is ‘defending all of Europe,’ Zelensky tells Kamala Harris

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. At the same time, however, he also called 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 and top Kiev officials have presented Moscow as poses a military threat to the whole continent, 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.”

For Harris, who has previously been branded by commentators as inexperienced on foreign policy, the trip to Munich is among the most important events 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 continued making of 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 denied it has plans to invade Ukraine, and dismissed Washington’s failed predictions, including those from President Joe Biden himself, as “hysteria” and “fake news.”

In the past several days, violence has flared up in eastern Ukraine. With reports of heavy shelling from both sides of the contact line, leaders from the breakaway Donbass region and those in Kiev accused one another of firing first. At least two artillery shells are said to have landed in Russia, but Moscow has not declared who it thinks is responsible, and has launched an investigation.

Kiev has also denied it has 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.