Harris, Heading To Poland, Will Deal With First Major NATO Fight Since Russia Invaded Ukraine

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Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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President Joe Biden’s administration was caught completely off guard Tuesday after Poland announced their proposal to send every Soviet-era fighter jet they own to Ukraine, with the U.S. dubbed as being responsible for the transfer deal. The confusion – and subsequent rejection of the idea from U.S. officials – coincides with Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Poland, where she’ll now likely be tasked with solving the dust-up.

Harris is slated to visit Warsaw, Poland, and Bucharest, Romania, from March 9-11. The trip was originally supposed to “demonstrate the strength and unity of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Alliance and U.S. support for NATO’s eastern flank allies in the face of Russian aggression,” Harris’s deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement.

“It will also highlight our collective efforts to support the people of Ukraine,” Singh said previously, adding that Harris will “advance our close coordination in response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

One day prior to her trip, Poland issued a surprise announcement after claiming for weeks that it was not working on a transfer deal, Politico reported. Ukraine has been pushing to get its hands on MiG-29 fighter jets, but a big concern remains on whether agreeing to the request would escalate Russia-NATO tensions.

“The authorities of the Republic of Poland, after consultations between the President and the Government, are ready to deploy — immediately and free of charge — all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America,” Poland announced in a press release.

“At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes,” the statement added. “The Polish Government also requests other NATO Allies – owners of MIG-29 jets – to act in the same vein.”

Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland called the press release “a surprise move by the Poles,” according to Politico – though officials said days earlier that options were being discussed, CNN reported.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby issued a lengthy statement Tuesday evening wholly rejecting Poland’s proposal, declaring it’s “not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”

“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” Kirby said, adding that the U.S. is “in contact with the Polish government following the statement issued today.”

With Harris already slated to land in Poland Wednesday, a senior administration official previewing the trip for reporters admitted this debacle will likely be a main focus.

“We have been in dialogue with the Poles for some time about how best to provide a variety of security assistance to Ukraine,” the official said, according to Politico. “And that’s a dialogue that absolutely will continue up to and as part of the vice president’s trip.”

“This is a key priority for us and for all of our NATO allies,” the official continued, according to CNN. “And so, we expect that we will continue talking about how to achieve this really important objective. A number of people have had a variety of ideas and we think all of them are worth discussing and that’s what we’re going to continue doing.”

Ultimately, the administration now appears forced to rely on Harris, though she has had few opportunities to personally handle big-stage foreign policy deals such as this one. What’s more, the vice president’s upcoming trip follows a slew of missteps throughout her time in office – some of them coming on past foreign trips.

Harris has also come under fire for numerous comments throughout her vice presidency, including her receptiveness in September 2021 to a student declaring that Israel commits “ethnic genocide.” (RELATED: ‘We’ve Been To The Border,’ Harris Says, Then Immediately Admits She Hasn’t Been To The Border)

She’s also faced criticism over whether she’s able to execute various tasks handed to her by the administration – most notably addressing the “root causes” of migration amid a border crisis.

The senior administration official on the call previewing Harris’s trip touted how “immersed” she’s been regarding the Russia-Ukraine problem. This official, according to CNN, promised that Harris has been “working intensively on a daily basis on all of the issues that are related to the ongoing crisis resulting from the Russian invasion,” suggesting she’s prepared for the upcoming challenge.