Vice President Kamala Harris visits Poland amid row

Vice President Kamala Harris visits Poland amid row

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Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Poland and Romania on Wednesday as the United States and its NATO allies seek to boost Ukrainian fighters while avoiding getting caught up in a wider war with Russia.

But diplomatic turbulence made headlines Tuesday after the Polish government said it would give all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US, apparently agreeing to an arrangement that would allow them to be used by Ukraine’s military. In turn, the US would supply Poland with US-made jets with “corresponding capabilities.”

But Polish officials didn’t run that idea past the Biden administration before going public with it, as the Pentagon quickly dismissed the idea as not “a tenable one.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement that the prospect of jets departing from a US/NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine war is concerning. He said it’s not clear to the US that there is a substantive rationale for it.

The Pentagon said the US will continue to talk to Poland about the matter.

Meanwhile, air raid sirens blared over Ukraine’s capital on Wednesday as officials said they were bolstering defenses in key cities threatened by Russian forces.

Thousands of people are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, in almost two weeks of fighting since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded. While Russian troops have seen their advance slowed by fiercer than expected Ukrainian resistance, they have laid siege to several cities, trapping civilians inside them with little or no food, water or medicine.

Latest developments:

►Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan deal early Wednesday by providing $13.6 billion to help Ukraine and European allies as Russia’s assault has devastated Ukrainian cities and prompted Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

►China says it is sending humanitarian aid including food and daily necessities worth 5 million yuan ($791,000) to Ukraine while continuing to oppose sanctions against Russia over its invasion.

►Most Asian stock markets rebounded Wednesday following Wall Street’s decline and President Joe Biden’s ban on imports of Russian crude.

► The White House announced late Tuesday that the Venezuelan government freed two jailed Americans, including an oil executive imprisoned alongside colleagues for more than four years, as it seeks to improve relations with the Biden administration amid Russia’s war with Ukraine.

►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 50 children have been killed in the war: “The scariest figure was the 50 Ukrainian children killed in 13 days of war. But then in an hour it became 52 children. I will never forgive this. And I know that you will never forgive the occupiers.”

►McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and General Electric all announced Tuesday they were suspending their business in Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

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VISUALS: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

US officials are highly concerned the war in Ukraine could impact American cyber networks as the war enters its third week and Russian President Vladimir Putin grows more isolated.

The nation’s main federal cybersecurity agency told USA TODAY on Tuesday it has been encouraging US organizations to up their security.

“While there are not any specific, credible, cyber threats to the US, we encourage all organizations – regardless of size – to take steps now to improve their cybersecurity and safeguard their critical assets,” the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency said in a statement .

The Biden administration sought $10 billion last week in emergency funding from Congress in defense aid, including to support Ukraine’s cyber defenses, as well as $28 million to bolster the FBI’s “investigative and operational response to cyber threats stemming from the Russia threat and war on Ukraine ,” according to the supplemental funding request.

—Tami Abdollah

As Russia grows increasingly isolated from the Western world as a result of sanctions and bans over its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has, in some ways, embraced the isolation by pushing out non-Russian speech and press.

A bill was quickly passed through both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament and signed by Putin on March 4 that criminalizing the intentional spread of information that goes against the government’s narrative, were certain words like “war” and “invasion” can land someone in prison for up to 15 years.

Experts told USA TODAY that Russia has been clamping down on free speech and independent press for years — even decades — without such momentous reaction. The country has even passed a number of similar laws in the past.

This time, the implications could be much more dangerous. Read more here.

—Celina Tebor

President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday a ban on the US import of all Russian energy products to target “the main artery of Russia’s economy” in the latest effort to ratchet up sanctions over President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Russian oil will no longer be accepted at US ports,” the president said Tuesday at the White House. “We will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war.”

Though Biden said the move would deal a “powerful blow to Putin’s war machine,” he warned the decision would be felt at home, where Americans see prices rising at the gas pump.

The president said he made the decision in consultation with European allies but they may not be in a position to join the ban.

—Courtney Subramanian, Maureen Groppe and Bart Jansen

Contributing: The Associated Press

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