Harris laid out retaliatory measures in a manner befitting her past career as a prosecutor, promising “significant and unprecedented” economic costs.
With the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine reaching a boiling point, Harris took center stage on Saturday morning in front of a large, international audience as she delivered the keynote address at the security conference.
The remarks came at a high-stakes moment after the United States’ repeated warnings on Friday of efforts by Russia to mount an invasion.
The vice president’s emphasis on Russia-Ukraine tensions follows several efforts by the United States on Friday to publicize Russia’s aggressive actions in the region and attempt to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine under the guise of false pretenses.
President Joe Biden said that he is now convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, adding that the US believes Russian forces intend to attack Ukraine “in the coming week” or sooner and that an attack will target the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
It was a major rhetorical shift for the President, who had previously indicated that he believed Putin had not yet made up his mind about an invasion. Still, Biden emphasized on Friday, there was room for diplomacy.
A senior administration official told reporters ahead of Harris’ remarks that she would make clear that the US would be ready for either outcome.
“We have been putting the world on notice of what we’re afraid of and seeing from the Russians, these provocations, that we fear that they could use as a pretext for invading Ukraine and the past hours or days, unfortunately, we have seen some of those,” the official said.
Russian misinformation is building up to a false justification for Putin to order an invasion, Biden said, accusing Russia of ceasefire violations in the “rapidly escalating crisis.”
The White House on Friday also blamed Russia for a massive cyberattack on Ukraine earlier in the week and warned that Russia could face extensive sanctions if it invades Ukraine, with Daleep Singh, deputy national security advisor for international economics and deputy director of the National Economic Council, calling them “the most severe measures we’ve ever contemplated against Russia.”
The official said Harris still plans to meet following the speech with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and will also conduct some informal meetings, called “pull asides”, with other leaders.
Despite the US’ assessment of an imminent invasion of Ukraine, Biden said on Friday that it’s up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to decide whether he will attend this weekend’s security conference in Germany. A senior Ukrainian official told CNN that Zelensky is still planning to travel to Munich and back on the same day. But he added that the “security situation will be reassessed in morning.”
The official previewing the vice president’s weekend plans said of Zelensky’s decision on whether to travel: “That’s really his call. It’s really up to him to decide where he needs to be.”
Asked specifically if they were concerned, the official said, flatly, “No.”
CNN’s Allie Malloy contributed to this report.