Harris will meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday afternoon before holding a news conference and a late return to Washington. In brief remarks before the sit-down talks, Harris and Yohannes said they wish they could meet under different circumstances.
“Hard times,” Johannes noted. “Your visit here gives us strength and is living proof of our strong partnership.”
Harris said the reaffirmation of the United States’ commitment to Romania and NATO was the reason for her visit, the highest visit to the region since the start of the war in Ukraine.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said. “To reaffirm our commitment to this partnership and friendship but also to NATO as a whole and all that the United States has been willing and still willing to do going forward, that’s in terms of the strength and continuity of that relationship.”
Her trip was a test of her diplomatic abilities and the determination of the broader Western allies to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his largest ground invasion of Europe since World War II.
Unlike Ukraine, Romania is a member of NATO, and Russia’s attack on the country would lead to the alliance’s Collective Defense Treaty, which states that an attack on one is an attack on all.
But even the protection of NATO, the alliance’s base system, and the missile defense system cannot completely calm the nerves in this ex-Soviet country that Russia has repeatedly invaded throughout its history.
Harris arrived in Bucharest from Poland, where she cemented the American commitment to another NATO ally watching carefully for Putin’s next move. She met with US and Polish forces on Friday morning and said the US was committed to protecting “every inch” of NATO territory.
After meeting with President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Harris said: “The United States is ready to defend every inch of NATO territory. The United States takes very seriously that any attack against one is an attack against all.”
It announced that the United States had fulfilled the delivery of Patriot missiles to Poland and promised to support the country as it grapples with its own wave of immigrants, which has strained public resources, despite an overwhelming welcome from the Polish people.
However, her visit also underlined the limitations on either the United States or NATO’s willingness to protect civilians in Ukraine. The Pentagon considered a plan to supply Ukraine with Polish combat aircraft as impossible before their arrival, and offered little indication that they might be revived in the future.
Instead, Harris emphasized the military support the United States was already providing to Ukraine due to a lack of air power, including anti-tank missiles, which the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, deemed insufficient.
“We do deliveries every single day in terms of what we can do,” Harris said. When asked what more Ukraine could expect, she said, “This is an ongoing process and it will not stop to the point where there is a need.”
Harris also exaggerated the atrocities she said were taking place in Ukraine, though they stopped short of calling them war crimes. The United Nations called for an investigation into the matter.
But it stuck to Biden’s red line, which was that the US military would not intervene directly in the war.
An official traveling with the vice president said her visit was meant to be more than symbolic, meant to show the US was putting its “money right” by sending additional troops into NATO’s eastern regions.
But the official also acknowledged that Harris’ type of reassurance diplomacy has taken on greater importance because Biden is intent on avoiding direct conflict with Russia.
“The president has been very clear about not engaging in direct military conflict with Russia, not sending troops to Ukraine, but he has also been very clear … about our determination to make Russia pay for this and continue to provide assistance to Ukraine,” the official said. The boss is here to make sure that we can do this in an efficient manner. And I think they’ve been very effective in doing that.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately describe the political relationship between Romania and the Soviet Union.