U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris endorsed calls Thursday from world leaders for an international war crimes investigation into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its bombing of civilians, including children and pregnant women at a maternity hospital.
Harris reiterated a need for the probe before meeting in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda in a show of U.S. support for NATO’s allies in eastern Europe.
Her appeal came one day after a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol killed at least three people, including a child, according to Ukrainian officials.
“Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” Harris said as she stood alongside President Duda, who said, “It is obvious to us that in Ukraine, Russians are committing war crimes.”
Harris also announced in a statement $53 million in new U.S. humanitarian aid “to support innocent civilians affected by Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine.” Nearly two weeks ago, the U.S. donated about $54 million in aid for medical supplies, food, thermal blankets and other essential humanitarian aid.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International said an investigation it conducted into the March 3 Russian airstrike that reportedly killed 47 civilians in the city of Chernihiv concluded events may constitute a war crime.
The global human rights group said interviews and video analysis indicate unguided aerial bombs known as “dumb bombs” were used to mostly target civilians standing in line for food.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, made no progress during talks in Turkey Thursday to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine, the first such high-level meeting since Moscow launched an invasion against its neighbor two weeks ago.
Speaking at a news conference at the conclusion of the talks, Kuleba said he and Lavrov made no progress in brokering a 24-hour cease-fire, adding it appeared Russia will continue its offensive until Ukraine surrenders, something he said Kyiv will not do.
“I want to repeat that Ukraine has not surrendered, does not surrender, and will not surrender,” Kuleba said.
Speaking separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s military operation was going according to plan and accused the West of “behaving dangerously” over Ukraine.
Lavrov said Russia is ready to resume talks and added Russian President Vladimir Putin would not refuse a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss “specific” issues. He blamed Western powers for the war, maintaining Russia was forced to invade Ukraine because the West had rejected “our proposal on security guarantees.”
The Turkish initiative is among several diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the escalating conflict. Both Israel and France are hoping to find a solution through direct talks with Putin.
The talks in the southern Turkish resort of Antalya were joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Turkey has for weeks sought a role in mediating the two sides. But there were few expectations at the outset Thursday’s high-level diplomatic push would result in any meaningful progress.
U.S. President Joe Biden, after a telephone call Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, applauded Turkey’s “efforts to support a diplomatic resolution to the conflict,” according to a White House statement.
The statement said the two leaders also “reaffirmed their strong support” for Ukraine, “underscored the need for an immediate cessation of Russian aggression and welcomed the coordinated international response to the crisis.”
The flurry of diplomacy comes amid international condemnation of Wednesday’s deadly airstrike on the maternity hospital in Mariupol.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in its invasion of Ukraine, calling allegations it bombed a maternity hospital “fake news.” It said the building was a former maternity hospital that had long been taken over by troops.
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called the hospital attack “genocide” and again called on NATO to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine, declaring, “you have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”
The U.S. has resisted that call, noting that a no-fly zone, as well as a proposal by Poland to transfer Russian-made fighter jets to a U.S. air base and then on to Ukraine, would effectively draw the U.S. into a direct confrontation with Russia.
More defense to Ukraine
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Wednesday the United States is in talks with Ukraine and other “allies and partners” to provide Kyiv with defensive weapons that do not involve more air defense capabilities.
The U.S., however, has deployed two Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in Poland, according to Marine Captain Adam Miller, U.S. European Command spokesperson. Miller said in a statement Wednesday that the missile batteries, normally stationed in Germany, were repositioned at Poland’s invitation.
“This defensive deployment is being conducted proactively to counter any potential threat to U.S. and allied forces and NATO territory,” Miller said.
VOA’s Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.