The United States is open to talking about curtailing possible offensive missile deployments in Ukraine and limiting U.S. and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe at an upcoming meeting of U.S. and Russian negotiators aimed at defusing tensions over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.
But a senior White House official who briefed reporters about the talks on January 8 stressed that any agreements would have to be reciprocal and contingent on Russia removing threats to Ukraine. The official also reiterated that no decisions would be made without the consent of Ukraine or NATO.
“We think we can at least explore the possibility of making progress with the Russians,” the official said, referring to the Strategic and Security Dialogue set to take place in Geneva, Switzerland. The official, who requested anonymity, added however that “there will be no firm commitments made in these talks.”
U.S. and Russian diplomats are to hold meetings on January 9-10 amid rising concerns a Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s border could signal Moscow is preparing a new incursion into Ukraine. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and has backed separatists battling government forces in eastern Ukraine.
The official said one area in which progress may be possible is Russia’s concerns over the prospect of offensive missile systems being placed in Ukraine.
President Joe Biden has already assured Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States has no intention of doing so, “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.
Washington is also ready to discuss the possibility of reciprocal restrictions by both sides on the size and scope of military exercises, including strategic bombers close to each other’s territory and ground-based exercises.
“We won’t know until we get to these conversations starting tomorrow night whether Russia is prepared to negotiate seriously and in good faith,” the official said, adding that the Russians and Americans would likely have an “initial conversation” in the evening on January 9 before holding their “main meeting” on January 10.
“We’re going into these meetings with a sense of realism, not a sense of optimism,” the official said.
Another White House official reiterated that the United States and its European partners would hit Russia hard with economic sanctions should it attack Ukraine.
In addition to direct sanctions on Russian entities, penalties could include significant restrictions on U.S. exports to Russia, including electronic components and software, and potentially foreign-made products subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
The official also said Russia could be added to the most restrictive group of countries for export control purposes, putting the it together with Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
Russia has demanded promises that NATO will not further expand eastward and wants the alliance to rollback troop and weapons deployments in Eastern Europe.
The White House official said there was no chance the United States would reduce its military footprint and commitments to its Eastern European NATO allies.
The Geneva meeting will be followed by discussions between Russia and NATO members on January 12. A meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) — which includes the United States, Ukraine, and Russia — will be held in Vienna on January 13.