The US supports ‘a just and lasting peace’ for Ukraine, Harris tells Zelenskyy at Swiss summit

OBBÜRGEN, Switzerland (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday pledged America’s full support in backing Ukraine and global efforts to achieve “a just and lasting peace” in the face of Russia’s invasion, representing the United States at an international gathering on the war and meeting with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss his country’s vision for ending it.

As she arrived at the meeting venue overlooking Lake Lucerne, Harris announced $1.5 billion in U.S. assistance through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. That includes money for energy assistance, repairing damaged energy infrastructure, helping refugees and strengthening civilian security in the wake of the aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s aggression is more than just an attack “on the lives and the freedom of the people of Ukraine,” Harris told leaders from 100 nations and global organizations participating in the summit. “It is not only an attack on global food security and energy supplies. Russia’s aggression is also an attack on international rules and norms and the principles embodied in the U.N. Charter,” Harris said. She said the U.S. was committed to continuing “to impose costs on Russia and we will continue to work toward a just and lasting peace,” reaffirming words she used at the start of her private meeting with Zelenskyy.

For Zelenskyy, the gathering was a beginning toward finding a “real peace.”

“The world majority definitely wants to live without bloody crises, deportations, and ecocides,” Zelenskyy said. “And so every nation that is not represented now and that shares the same values of the U.N. Charter in deed and word, will be able to join our work at the next stages.”

President Joe Biden was in Los Angeles after three days at the Group of Seven summit in Italy, where he held talks with Zelenskyy. Biden flew from Europe to California for a Saturday night fundraiser with Hollywood A-listers George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

That decision to skip the summit on Ukraine spotlights the competing election-year demands facing Biden as he tries to balance a complicated domestic and foreign policy agenda while running against former President Donald Trump. It also reflects the growing profile Harris has found making the case for a second Biden term as the 2024 campaign heats up.

“Being vice president means you take a lot of hits for the team,” said Matt Bennett, who served as an aide to former Vice President Al Gore. “In the past, these moments on the global stage have been good for her. She looks presidential and very capable among world leaders.”

Zelenskyy, for months, publicly lobbied Biden and other world leaders to take part in the meeting, even warning that their absence could further embolden Putin in his 28-month war. Biden ultimately decided to send Harris and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to represent the administration.

“Skipping the summit is a missed opportunity for the president and for the United States,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “That said, sending the vice president with the national security adviser is not exactly sending the junior varsity team.”

Zelenskyy told fellow leaders that with the gathering they had managed to avoid a frightening trap of the war: the division of the world into camps. But he said they had much more to accomplish with the conference.

“At the first peace summit, we must determine how to achieve a just peace, so that at the second, we can already settle on a real end to the war,” he said.

Biden has increasingly turned to Harris as he tries to reassemble the coalition of voters behind the victory over Trump — and one needed again to help win a second term. Harris has taken a more visible role in making the pitch for Biden to a diverse cross-section of the Democratic base.

But like Biden, Harris has also seen her standing among Americans diminish. About 4 in 10 registered voters have a somewhat or very favorable view of Harris, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. About half have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of her, and about 1 in 10 don’t know enough to say. Her favorability ratings are similar to Biden.

The Trump campaign needled Harris for her fill-in role in Switzerland, with spokesperson Karoline Leavitt saying the vice president has “failed thus far at every task she has been given.” Trump and his allies have occasionally gone after at Harris, suggesting that a vote for Biden is effectively a vote for Harris eventually becoming president.

Russia was not invited to the Swiss summit. Putin on Friday promised to “immediately” order a cease-fire in Ukraine and begin negotiations if Kyiv started withdrawing troops from the four regions annexed by Moscow in 2022 and renounced plans to join NATO. Ukraine called Putin’s proposal “manipulative” and “absurd.” Harris said Putin “is not calling for negotiations. He is calling for surrender. America stands with Ukraine, not out of charity but because it is in our strategic interest.”

Biden may have softened the disappointment over his absence from the Ukraine meeting with a series of announcements in recent weeks aimed at further bolstering Ukraine.

G7 leaders this week announced a $50 billion loan package for Kyiv that will leverage interest and income from the more than $260 billion in frozen Russian assets.

Biden and Zelenskyy on Thursday signed a security agreement that commits the U.S. over 10 years to continued training of Ukraine’s armed forces, more cooperation in the production of weapons and military equipment, and greater intelligence sharing.

Biden has approved sending Ukraine another Patriot missile system, something Zelenskyy says is desperately needed to defend against Russian strikes on Ukraine’s power grid and civilian areas, as well as military targets.

And late last month, Biden eased restrictions that kept Ukraine from using American weaponry to strike inside Russia. This allows strikes into Russia for the limited purpose of defending the second-largest city of Kharkiv, which sits 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border and has been bombarded with attacks launched from inside Russia.


Associated Press writer Amelia Thomson DeVeaux in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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