Harris Tells Americans They Will Have to Pay More for Gas to Punish Russia

BUCHAREST — Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that Americans will have to bear the burden of higher gas prices, but insisted that it was a cost worth paying to punish Russia for waging war on Ukraine.

She spoke on the second day of a high-stakes diplomatic trip through Poland and Romania that was meant to reassure the two NATO allies that border Ukraine.

“There is a price to pay for democracy. You got to stand with your friends,” Ms. Harris said during a joint news conference with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania. “Sometimes it is difficult. Often, it ain’t easy.”

The White House had already warned Americans that U.S. and Europeans sanctions on Russian oil and energy would have an impact on gas prices in the United States, a message that the vice president echoed during her trip overseas.

As peace talks between Ukraine and Russia appeared to make little progress, Ms. Harris faced questions over how the United States would grapple with the ripple effects of a Russian military assault that has increasingly targeted civilians in Ukraine and forced more than 2 million refugees to flee.

Ms. Harris ended the first leg of her visit in the Polish capital, Warsaw, by greeting American and Polish troops and repeating her accusation that Russia had committed war crimes in Ukraine, citing the recent attack on a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol.

“It is painful to watch what is happening to innocent people in Ukraine who just want to live in their own country and have pride in themselves as Ukrainians,” Ms. Harris said. “Who want to be home, speaking the language that they know, going to the church that they know.”

In Warsaw, Ms. Harris focused on detailing the Biden administration’s efforts to address the fast-growing refugee crisis in Europe. Poland alone is dealing with nearly 1.3 million refugees from neighboring Ukraine.

But in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, both Ms. Harris and Mr. Iohannis also seemed concerned about the possibility that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would expand his invasion into smaller countries in the region, such as Romania or Moldova.

At their joint news conference, Ms. Harris said the United States in recent weeks had approved dispatching a 1,000-member striker squad to protect the eastern flank of NATO. Mr. Iohannis said Romania had increased its security spending to 2.5 percent from 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The Romanian president added that he had discussed with allies enhancing NATO’s military presence in the region.

“NATO will act without hesitation to defend each and every allied state, including obviously Romania,” Mr. Iohannis said. “I’m saying it while I stand next to one of the most strategic partners. We will defend every inch when it comes to the commitments that bind us.”

But the Biden administration has faced questions from members of Congress back home and leaders abroad about how far it will go to equip international allies with weapons.

The vice president’s visit was complicated from the outset when Poland proposed turning over Soviet-era fighter jets to the United States, for ultimate transfer to Ukraine. The United States rejected the move on Wednesday night, worried that it could be viewed by Moscow as an escalation and push NATO into a direct confrontation with Russia.

The administration has instead relied primarily on working with Western allies to impose an array of sanctions on Russia, including on oil and energy, that have hit the Russian currency hard.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know

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On the ground. Russian forces, battered by the local resistance, have stepped up their bombardment across Ukraine, targeting locations far from the front lines. Satellite imagery of a convoy north of Kyiv suggests that Russia is repositioning its forces for a renewed assault there.

A punishing measure. In a move to escalate the economic pain on Russia, President Biden called on Congress to suspend normal trade with the country, in a coordinated move with the Group of 7 and the E.U. The change that would raise tariffs for many Russian products.

Iran nuclear deal. A European Union official said that talks on reviving the 2015 deal had paused following the invasion. Russia, a signatory to the accord, has tried to use final approval of the deal as leverage to soften sanctions imposed because of the war.

Disinformation push. Russia falsely claimed that the Pentagon was financing biological weapons labs in Ukraine — a lie repeated by Chinese diplomats. The Biden administration called out both countries, saying the United States might provide cover for a potential biological or chemical weapons attack on Ukrainians by Russia.

While President Biden has been widely celebrated for encouraging European allies to coordinate on the economic penalties, Heather A. Murphy, president for the German Marshall Fund, said this created a new challenge.

Western allies, including Romania and Poland, have supported the sanctions against Russia and welcomed the proposed military and humanitarian aid for the region. Now, they expect to see resources on the ground quickly to deter Russia’s advance.

“The challenge for the vice president will rightly be the speed of all of this,” Ms. Murphy said. “Now it is about the speed of U.S. resources flowing to my territory.”

The sanctions could also complicate the political situation back in the U.S., where Americans have for months grappled with growing inflation, which has driven down the approval ratings of the Biden presidency.

The Consumer Price Index rose by 7.9 percent through February, the fastest pace of inflation in 40 years. The average price for a gallon of gas was $4.32 on Thursday, according to AAA. Economists say because of those record gas prices, inflation is expected to climb even more.

If the war drags on, these problems could only multiply with time.

Peace talks between top officials for Ukraine and Russia made little progress this week. Ms. Harris maintained that the administration is still seeking a diplomatic way forward, but did not provide details on a resolution that would encourage Mr. Putin to back away from his military assault.

“We maintain that diplomacy is the way to resolve these issues,” she said. “That coexists with our commitment to ensure our allies are strong and there must be serious consequence and accountability for what Russia is doing.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

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