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Vice President Harris meets with Ukraine president and ally countries


Symbolic moment today in Munich as Ukraine's President Zelenskyy stood side by side with Vice President Harris just days ahead of what the U.S. says is a planned Russian attack on Ukraine.


VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: If Russia further invades your country, as I mentioned earlier today, we will impose swift and severe economic sanctions. We have been clear about that.

SIMON: Moscow has been building up its troop presence near Ukraine's borders for months, and now President Biden has said that Russian President Putin has made up his mind to send them in. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is in Munich. Franco, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You were in the room where it happened. What was it like?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it was more about the symbolism than any new announcement. You know, this meeting signals to Russia, to Ukrainians that the U.S. will support Zelenskyy. You know, there's really been mixed messages from Kyiv and Washington on how serious the threat is from Russia. You know, Zelenskyy initially downplayed it, but today, after President Biden gave his most dire warnings yet, and as Putin himself oversaw military exercises - you know, there's an image of Zelenskyy and Harris side by side. You know, he told her that all he wants is peace, but he said that he may be looking for more support for his army from the U.S. You know, the U.S. has been supplying missiles and ammunition and equipment. You know, and Harris told him that the U.S. takes threats to Ukraine seriously, so, you know, they were eye to eye. It was an interesting moment.

SIMON: Was there any concern that President Zelenskyy had left his country to meet with leaders in Munich given that the U.S. has said an attack on his capital was imminent?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, there was some surprise about that, yes. I mean, but the White House has been saying that, look; you know, this was up to Zelenskyy. It was his choice.

SIMON: And President Zelenskyy says all he wants is peace. Are there signs that an attack could still be averted?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, there is still hope being expressed, you know, even though signs point to an imminent attack. You know, the vice president told leaders in Munich today that the U.S. is still open to serious diplomacy, but she emphasized the word serious.


HARRIS: We have engaged in good faith. Russia continues to claim it is ready for talks while, at the same time, it narrows the avenues for diplomacy. Their actions simply do not match their words.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and Harris says that the U.S. and its allies are united and ready with what she said are unprecedented financial sanctions on key industries and players in Moscow if an attack on Ukraine happens.

SIMON: And who else will the vice president meet with in Munich?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, she is also meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz today. Harris is spending time with allies, checking in to make sure they're all on the same page about how to respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. You know, and she says she's been heartened by what she's heard so far. There will be some other meetings as well on the sidelines at the Munich Security Conference. Yesterday she met with some of the smaller members of NATO - the Baltic states. They want more U.S. troops in the region because they're worried about what Russia might do. Biden has shored up the U.S. presence in Poland and Romania, but there's no immediate words about any other plans for more troops. And he has been clear that U.S. troops will not go into Ukraine if attacked.

SIMON: NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez in Munich, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.