WARSAW (Poland) -- Kamala Harris, Vice President of the Polish Embassy in Washington, is on a mission to reassure Poland during the Russian invasion of Ukraine . This comes after a very public communication break between Poland and America over attempts to send Soviet fighter jets to Kyiv .
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine last month and the U.S. trying to show unity with its NATO allies since then, insisting that any aggression by Moscow that spills over into Ukraine's borders will not be accepted.
However, NATO and Harris are now facing a major test after Poland caught Biden's attention with a proposal to make the U.S. the middleman when it comes to supplying Ukraine with Polish-owned MiG aircrafts.
Poland suggested that the planes be placed under U.S. custody at an American base in Germany, for possible transfer to Ukraine later. This plan was rejected by the Biden administration. It aims to avoid being a direct or indirect participant in Putin's war.
John Kirby, Defense Department spokesperson, stated Wednesday that "we do not support the transfer to Ukraine of additional fighter planes at this time" and added that he did not want to see them in his custody. This was in direct opposition to the plan announced Tuesday by the Polish government. He claimed that Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary, had sent the stern message to Poland's defense ministry.
In one of her greatest moments on the international stage, Harris now has to repair the diplomatic rift and keep the spotlight on her dual priorities: affirming America's commitment to defend Poland, NATO allies, and encouraging Poland, the largest recipient of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war -- more than a million people.
Harris was asked by Andrzej Da, the Polish President, to answer questions about the U.S.-Polish issue with MiG planes in a joint press conference at Belwelder Palace.
Harris stated that the United States and Poland were united in helping Ukraine and its people.
Duda was, for his part more direct and described Poland's move to NATO as an attempt to help it without forcing it to make a decision to arm Ukraine with planes. This could create more risk for NATO.
Duda spoke through a translator, "We decided that we would put those jets in the disposal of NATO and not expecting anything back," Duda stated.
Harris arrived in Warsaw on Wednesday night for the beginning of a two country trip. She will visit Romania, a NATO ally and neighbor of Ukraine.
Thursday's meeting was with Duda. She also planned to meet Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister. In a show of support to NATO, she will spend Friday with Polish and U.S soldiers before heading to Bucharest, the Romanian capital.
Biden's administration made it clear that two Patriot anti-missile battery units were being moved to Poland by the U.S. ahead of Harris' visit. This was not to defend Ukraine, but to counter any possible threat to U.S. forces and NATO territories. The U.S. military stated that this was a prudent force protection measure that would "in absolutely no way support any offensive operation."
Harris used Warsaw's stop to announce that the U.S. would provide $53 million more in humanitarian aid for civilians in Ukraine, and eastern Europe. According to the White House, the funds will be sourced from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and will go to the U.N. World Food Program as well as other causes.
Harris' visit is markedly affected by the controversy over fighter jets. According to senior Biden administration officials, Harris will likely leave details to military officials, but she will discuss with the Poles ways they can better coordinate their security assistance for Ukraine.
For days, the U.S. had tethered around the question of Warsaw sending fighter jets to Ukraine. Calling it a decision for Poland, it also suggested that the U.S. might "backfill" the loss by providing U.S. aircraft to Poland.
Surprise announcement came that Poland was planning to transfer its old MiG planes to the U.S. in order to preserve them. According to the Biden administration, such a move could be perceived by Putin as U.S. military intervention in the war. It also puts at risk U.S. pilots, if they fly them into Ukraine where the Russians might shoot the them down.
According to the Biden administration, Poland had never spoken with the U.S. prior to the announcement.
"I believe the Poles have become too attached to themselves. In an interview, Stephen Mull, former U.S. ambassador in Poland, stated that they want to help. They didn't wait to see if all of this was sorted out, but they went ahead and made it public to show that they are willing to help while leaving all the risk to America.
Mull, who was Ambassador during the Obama administration, stated that Harris would likely not directly criticize Poland for the diplomatic embarrassment. However, he predicted that Harris would try to communicate the need to avoid surprises in light of the gravity and severity of the crisis.
He stated, "We must be coordinating very, very closely to ensure that we don’t give the impression of lack or lack of unity in the alliance."
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made it a top priority to send fighter planes to Russia to repel Russia's military. He described it as the best option after NATO and the U.S. rejected his requests to establish a no fly zone over Ukraine.
Julie Smith, the U.S. ambassador in NATO, stated that Poland could have chosen to transfer the planes directly to Ukraine, but she "proposed a different route."
Smith stated Wednesday on MSNBC that the United States and specifically the Pentagon had said they considered this proposal untenable. It is a good idea, however.