The Biden Administration says it is willing to negotiate on missile placements and the size and scope of military exercises in Eastern Europe as security officials prepare for next week’s bilateral talks with Russia.
The White House hopes to cool simmering tensions with Russia amid troop buildup along its border with Ukraine through a series of negotiations with the Kremlin beginning Monday.
Last month, the Russian Foreign Ministry published a draft treaty laying out a list of demands for the U.S. and NATO ahead of the talks.
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. Both remain non-starters for the U.S.
Nonetheless, officials say the administration is willing to discuss some concerns raised by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia has said it feels threatened by the prospect of offensive missile systems being placed in Ukraine,” a senior administration official said. “As President Biden told President Putin, The United States has no intention of doing that. So this is one area where we may be able to reach an understanding if Russia is willing to make a reciprocal commitment.”
The official said the U.S. is also willing to explore the size and scope of certain U.S. and NATO exercises along Russia’s borders.
“Russia has conducted a series of ever larger and more coercive military exercises along its border with NATO allies,” officials said. “Russia said his security is threatened by U.S. and NATO exercises as well. So we’re willing to explore the possibility of reciprocal restrictions on the size and scope of such exercises, including both strategic bombers close to each other’s territory and ground-based exercises as well.”
The White House on Saturday continued to deny reports that it is considering calling back troop deployments to the region. Officials said the report by NBC News on Friday was not accurate.
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.
Russia’s troop buildup has stoked fears that the Kremlin may be planning an invasion of Ukraine, similar to its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
President Biden has pledged severe diplomatic and economic consequences should Russia invade Ukraine.
Officials say the verdict is still out as to whether the Kremlin intends to negotiate in good faith.
“We won’t know until we get to these conversations[…] whether Russia is prepared to negotiate seriously and in good faith, as we know our teams will be, or whether they will simply use this as a pretext to claim that diplomacy couldn’t address their interests, so they have to turn to other means,” a senior administration official said Saturday.