The White House on Friday denied a report that it is considering scaling back troop deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe ahead of next week’s talks with Russia.
National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said the report by NBC News is not accurate.
“It is not accurate that the administration is developing options for pulling back U.S. forces in Eastern Europe in preparation for discussions with Russia next week, which we told NBC while they were reporting this story,” she said in an email to The Washington Times.
“In fact, we have been clear with Russia, publicly and privately, that should Russia further invade Ukraine we would reinforce our NATO Allies on the eastern flank, to whom we have a sacred obligation. We are firmly tightly lashed up with our NATO Allies as we address this crisis together, on the principle of “nothing about you without you,” she said.
Citing an administration official and two former security officials, the report said the White House is putting together a list of options for changing force posture in Europe to discuss with Russia. The officials reportedly told the outlet that Russia is willing to scale back its presence if the U.S. will respond in kind.
Russia would have to reduce its troop level both in the region and Ukraine, the officials said. The reciprocal agreement would be a way to reduce tensions between the nations as fears grow that Russia could invade Ukraine, according to the news outlet.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican on the Intelligence Committee, slammed the idea of the U.S. scaling back its troop presence in Eastern Europe.
“President Biden’s foreign policy consistently projects weakness, not strength. Putin escalates tensions on Ukraine’s border for nearly a year and the Biden Administration responds by floating troop reductions. This is the very definition of appeasement,” he said in a statement. “President Biden needs to send a strong message to Putin and reassure our European allies, but that won’t happen if his national security advisors are already floating an American retreat.”
Officials from Washington and Russia are scheduled to meet Monday in a bid to lower the temperature as Moscow amasses thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border, stoking fears that Russia is planning an invasion similar to its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
That meeting will be followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday and a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which includes Russia as a member.
Russia has demanded that the U.S. and NATO deny membership to Ukraine and roll back military levels in Eastern Europe. It has also asked the U.S. not to build any military bases in countries that were former members of the Soviet Union and not part of NATO.
There are about 6,000 U.S. forces deployed in Eastern Europe, including about 4,000 in Poland. Other members of the NATO alliance have thousands of troops rotating deployments in the region.