Biden admin proposes to cut US troops in Eastern Europe

With the Biden administration moving into next week’s talks with Russia, it’s still uncertain whether Moscow is serious about talks, but if so, US officials will limit the deployment of American and Russian troops to Eastern Europe and military exercises. A current administration official and two former US national security officials familiar with the plan told NBC News.

The discussion could potentially address the scope of military exercises conducted by both powers, the number of US troops stationed in the Baltic states and Poland, advance information about the movement of forces, and Russia’s nuclear-capable Iskander in the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Missiles. Poland and Lithuania, the sources said.

With tens of thousands of Russian soldiers massively on the border of Ukraine, Biden Administration Russia is threatening unprecedented sanctions and other tough measures if it takes military action against Ukraine. But the administration is also looking for ways To ease tensions with Russia As US officials prepare for a series of high-level discussions with Moscow from Monday.

“The administration is preparing a list of options for force currency change in Europe to discuss with Russia in negotiations,” an administration official said. The official said the US would be ready to discuss specific steps if Russia was willing to discuss reducing its presence in the region.

For any change in US military presence in Europe, Russia would have to take reciprocal, equitable steps to reduce its forces, and withdrawing Russian troops from Ukraine would not be enough, current officials and former officials said.

After Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, the US and other NATO states deployed a modest number of troops to Eastern Europe, including US armored units, and conducted high-profile military exercises from the Baltic to the Black Sea. as well as extended air and naval patrols. ,

Of the more than 70,000 US troops stationed in Europe, approximately 6,000 US troops are stationed mostly in rotating bases in Eastern Europe, including about 4,000 in Poland. Other NATO countries also have thousands of troops deployed in the region to strengthen the eastern side of the alliance.

NATO’s increased “further presence” and exercises have angered Russia, which says the coalition’s activities pose a threat to Russia.

Only considering US military exercises or any change in US military presence in Eastern Europe can warn NATO allies in the region, particularly Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Those countries once dominated by Russia and the former Soviet Union fear renewed aggression without protection from the US and NATO.

William Taylor, who served as US ambassador to Ukraine during the Bush administration and acting ambassador to Trump, said any talks on troop deployment in Central and Eastern Europe would have to include all affected countries, including the coalition’s eastern NATO members are also included in this part. Administration.

“They should be on the table,” said Taylor, who is now with the US Institute of Peace.

But he said it was worth pursuing potential talks that could ease tensions along the border separating Russia and NATO allies.

“Our overall goal is to increase security and I would argue that there are ways to do this by limiting smartly . . . what the Russians can do and reciprocal limits on what the NATO alliance can do,” Taylor said. Said. “We are talking about steps that will instill confidence that neither side is preparing to attack the other.”

Taylor said possible measures could include sharing information about military exercises in sensitive areas and deploying observers to monitor the exercises.

If successful, the spirit may be revived by such talks. The now-defunct 1990 treaty between the West and the Soviet bloc on conventional forces, which required Washington and Moscow to share information about the movement of forces and weapons. Experts say the treaty helped prevent conflict during the end of the Cold War.

But it is uncertain whether Russia is ready to engage in actual arms control talks and any meaningful progress will be impossible unless Russia withdraws the massive force deployed along Ukraine’s borders, former officials said.

Even as diplomacy with Russia is planned, the Biden administration is prepared for a possible military attack in Ukraine, warning that any attack would lead to harsher sanctions on Moscow and greater Western military support for Ukraine. will trigger.

Current and former officials said the United States is working with other members of the NATO coalition to arrange for the delivery of Stinger shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles requested by the government to Kiev. Ukrainian officials believe the Stinger surface-to-air missiles will help its military defend the country against low-flying Russian helicopters and drones.

Current and former officials said the Biden administration has prepared a new US package of military aid for Ukraine in addition to US military aid. A source familiar with the Ukrainian government’s thinking said Kiev hoped the administration was ready to approve additional aid.

Former officials said that in addition to threatening sanctions, the administration is prepared to warn Moscow that if Russian forces occupy more territory in Ukraine, the United States will support Ukrainian resistance fighters and NATO expanded into Eastern Europe. Will support military presence.

The White House and the State Department declined to comment on the record about possible proposals for talks with Russia.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken suggested on Wednesday that it was possible to find a way with Russia to agree immediate steps that would ease tensions, but did not elaborate.

Blinken said after the German meeting, “I believe that if Russia is serious about diplomacy and de-escalation of tensions, there are things we can all do relatively quickly so that we can build more confidence.” and ease some of the concerns.” Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock.

“There are also issues that can take some time to work on, especially, for example, when it comes to arms control, you don’t come up with an arms control agreement in a few weeks,” he added.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other US officials are due to meet with their Russian counterparts in Geneva on Monday, and then wider talks involving NATO and other European governments are set to follow during the week. The administration has vowed not to discuss with Russia any issues that affect other Eastern European countries, without involving those governments in the talks, citing the principle of “nothing about you without you”. Giving.

Former US officials said that as it prepares for talks with Russia, the White House is facing a delicate balancing act as it tries to lower the temperature without Russian threats or saber-rattling, Former US officials said.

Former officials said it was unclear whether Russia was open to talks and compromises or whether it would hold public positions that Washington sees as unrealistic and unfair, including demanding guarantees that Ukraine would be included in the NATO alliance. will not be allowed to attend.

A White House National Security Council spokesman said “we don’t know what next week’s talks will bring” but added that the US approach will be “practical and results-oriented.”

“We believe that there are areas where we can make progress if Moscow is realistic in its approach. We cannot be sure until talks are held – that is the nature of diplomacy,” the spokesperson said.

As for Russia’s claim that Ukraine is a threat to Russia because of its defense ties with European countries or that the NATO alliance represents a threat to Moscow, US officials argue that it is Russia that has recently passed international law. violated and risked conflict. years. They point to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, its attempts to interfere in other countries’ elections, and allegations Moscow has used chemical weapons to attempt assassinations on foreign soil.

“We and our allies will take up those and other issues with Russia in the coming days and weeks,” a National Security Council spokesman said.

The White House last month contacted several former senior national security officials and Russian experts to discuss its approach to Russia and seek their advice. Some of those officials, including former senior military officials and ambassadors, have urged the administration to follow a strict line, maintain a united front with European allies, counter Russian propaganda and avoid signaling to Moscow that it could secure concessions for its military construction. Ukraine.

Last week a letter from 24 former national security officials and senior military officials praised Biden’s approach so far, but called for additional steps to prevent Russia from launching another offensive rather than waiting until an offensive begins. Did.

The group called for Ukraine to make more weapons available, suggesting Stinger missiles and additional shipments of Javelin anti-tank missiles and radar to track artillery fire.

The letter said, “We believe that the United States should, in close consultation with its NATO allies and Ukraine, take immediate steps to influence the Kremlin’s cost-benefit calculations, before the Russian leadership can take further military action.” oppose the increase,” the letter said.

Administration officials are preparing a series of unprecedented sanctions against Moscow over military action in Ukraine, and have sought to secure support for similar measures from European allies.

Although the US and European governments are close to consensus on Russia, it is unclear whether some European leaders would be willing to impose penalties on Moscow if Russia takes provocative actions that are less than a full-fledged military attack, such as cyberattacks or pre-emptive strikes. The seizure of a small area of ​​the area, officials said.

In addition to blocking Russia’s access to the New York bond markets and restricting oligarchs linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, US measures include limiting semiconductor exports linked to Russia’s defense industry, according to three former US officials briefed on the issue. May include targeting.

Biden administration officials have said repeatedly that the US will not consider Russia’s demand that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO and assert Kiev’s right to decide its future.

Just days before the start of US-Russia talks in Geneva, Russia deployed troops to Kazakhstan, a close ally of Moscow, in another former Soviet republic. Amid widespread anti-government protests, Russia said it had sent paratroopers as part of a regional peacekeeping mission.

It is too early to say how the turmoil in Kazakhstan could affect the crisis in Ukraine. But if the situation worsens, it could potentially relieve Ukraine’s pressure, at least temporarily, as Russia may choose to focus its attention and military forces on Kazakhstan, regional experts said.