March 2. 2024. 3:11

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Response to Ukraine conflict shows strength of US-UK relationship, say Harris and Sunak

The transatlantic response to the Ukraine conflict demonstrated the strength of the relationship between London and Washington, according to Rishi Sunak and Kamala Harris.

The prime minister met the US vice president for the first time on Saturday when they entered into talks on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference.

Ms Harris told Mr Sunak, before sitting down for their bilateral discussions, that the UK was “among our greatest of allies”.

Speaking in front of reporters, she said the pair would be touching upon “our transatlantic community, and how it has risen to meet the needs of supporting the Ukrainian people”.

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The prime minister told Ms Harris he “completely agreed” with her sentiments about the importance of the UK-US relationship.

He added: “There could be no better illustration of that than our joint response to the awful conflict in Ukraine where we stood together and led, I think, the world in providing steadfast support to Ukraine so it can defend itself and push back against Russian aggression.”

The British leader said both their speeches at the German summit had stressed how that combined approach to aiding Kyiv “was the right strategy”.

Downing Street said the pair used their time together to discuss “how to accelerate international action on Ukraine, to allow them to win the war and secure a just and lasting peace”.

Mr Sunak and Ms Harris agreed on the “importance of thinking beyond Ukraine’s immediate needs” and starting to think about ensuring Kyiv “never faces the same threats again”.

[ Northern Ireland protocol deal ‘by no means done’, says Rishi Sunak ]

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “They agreed that Putin’s war in Ukraine is a global war, both in terms of its impact on food and energy security and in terms of its implications for internationally accepted norms like sovereignty.

“The prime minister and vice president Harris condemned those countries who have supported Putin’s efforts politically and militarily.”

The meeting with the vice president – who proved a big draw in the conference hall on Saturday afternoon – was one of many in the Bavarian capital for the prime minister.

He held talks with the leaders of the European Union, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Finland, while also meeting briefly with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

The busy schedule was designed to press home the argument made in his summit speech, about providing immediate military assistance to Ukraine while also increasing its defence capabilities for the future.

Earlier on Saturday at the Munich summit, Ms Harris said the Biden administration formally concluded that Russia has committed “crimes against humanity” during its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine

“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,” Ms Harris, a former prosecutor, said.

“And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held to account.”

The official determination, which came at the end of a legal analysis led by the US state department, carries with it no immediate consequences for the ongoing war.

But Washington hopes that it could help further isolate Russian president Vladimir Putin and galvanise legal efforts to hold members of his government accountable through international courts and sanctions.

Ms Harris’ speech came as senior western leaders met in Munich to assess Europe’s worst conflict since second World War.

She said Russia was now a “weakened” country after Mr Biden led a coalition to punish Mr Putin for the invasion, but Russia is only intensifying assaults in Ukraine’s east. Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning a spring counteroffensive, for which it is seeking more, heavier and longer-range weapons from its western allies.

The nearly year-long war has killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions from their homes, pummelled the global economy and made Mr Putin a pariah in the West.

Washington had already concluded that Russian forces were guilty of war crimes, as has a UN-mandated investigation, but the Biden administration conclusion that Russia’s actions amount to “crimes against humanity” implies a legal analysis that acts from murder to rape are widespread, systematic and intentionally directed against civilians. In international law, it is seen as a more serious offence.

The UN-backed Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has not yet concluded that the war crimes it says it has identified amount to crimes against humanity.

In her remarks, Ms Harris cited as “barbaric and inhumane” the scores of victims found in Bucha shortly after Russia’s invasion last February; the March 9th bombing of a Mariupol maternity hospital, that killed three people, including a child; and the sexual assault of a four-year-old by a Russian soldier that was identified by the UN report.

Organisations supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have documented more than 30,000 war crimes incidents since the invasion, according to the U.S. government. Ukrainian officials said they were investigating the shelling of the city of Bakhmut just this week as a possible war crime.

Russia, which says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to eliminate threats to its security and protect Russian-speakers, has denied intentionally targeting civilians or committing war crimes.

“Let us all agree: on behalf of all the victims, both known and unknown, justice must be served,” Ms Harris said.

The Biden administration has sought to bring alleged war criminals to justice, including training Ukrainian investigators, imposing sanctions, blocking visas and hiking penalties under US war crimes laws.

Washington has spent some $40 million (€37 million) on the efforts so far and says it is working with Congress to secure an additional $38 million for the efforts.

But the Biden administration’s ability to enforce any such efforts beyond its borders – and certainly within Russia – is limited. Collecting evidence in the war-torn country, too, has proven difficult.

International legal bodies are also constrained. At the International Criminal Court, for instance, jurisdiction extends only to member states and states that have agreed to its jurisdiction, such as Ukraine but not Russia. Kyiv has been pushing for a new international war crimes organisation to focus on the Russian invasion, which Moscow has opposed.

“If Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken,” Ms Harris said. “Time is not on his side.” – PA/Reuters