US to discuss military exercises, missile deployments in Monday’s Russia talk

Ukrainian soldiers use a launcher with US Javelin missiles during military exercises in Donetsk region, Ukraine (Photo: AP)
Ukrainian soldiers use a launcher with US Javelin missiles during military exercises in Donetsk region, Ukraine (Photo: AP)


US officials say concessions would need to be reciprocal; Proposals fall short of Moscow’s public demands

WASHINGTON : The Biden administration is ready to discuss the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe as well as reciprocal restrictions on the size and scope of military exercises on the continent when it meets on Monday with Russian negotiators in Geneva, US officials said.

The Biden administration’s efforts are an attempt to defuse tensions with Russia, which has deployed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border. But they fall far short of Moscow’s demands that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization call a halt to its eastward expansion, and cease training, exercises and military support to Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Any concessions “would have to be reciprocal," a senior administration official said Saturday. “Both sides would need to make essentially the same commitment, and these discussions will also have to be conducted in full consultation with our partners and allies."

U.S. and European negotiators head into a series of meetings with Russia next week, which begin Sunday night in Geneva when Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has a working dinner with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Formal talks open the next day. Ms. Sherman will then travel to Brussels for an expanded meeting between NATO allies and Russia on Wednesday. A third round of talks in Vienna Thursday will take place under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Ukraine and Russia are members.

U.S. officials on Saturday outlined three areas in which they hope to make progress with Russia: weapons deployments in Ukraine, missile deployments in Europe, and military exercises on the continent.

Russian officials have repeatedly complained that the U.S. might deploy missiles on Ukrainian territory that could strike targets in Russia, though President Biden told President Putin last month that the U.S. has no intention of doing so.

On Saturday, the senior administration official said the White House is prepared to codify Mr. Biden’s position formally if Moscow will make a reciprocal commitment.

U.S. officials also foresaw possible progress on intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The U.S. withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 after accusing Moscow of violating the accord by deploying a prohibited cruise missile, the 9M729. Russia has denied the allegation.

The Trump administration rebuffed Russian proposals for a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe, saying such steps could tie the U.S. hands without leading to the elimination of 9M729 missiles. But the Biden administration is now open to exploring limiting such missiles the U.S. official said.

“Russia has also expressed an interest in discussing the future of certain missile systems in Europe, along the lines of the INF treaty, which Russia violated and the previous U.S. administration withdrew from," the U.S. official said. “We are open to discussing this possibility as well."

A third area in which it hopes there will be convergence with Russia involves scaling back military exercises in Europe. Such a step, which would need to be reciprocal, would reduce U.S. military operations in the region.

The U.S. is “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 territories and ground-based exercises as well," the senior administration official said.

Russia has cited U.S. and NATO military exercises across Europe as a “red line" for Russia, particularly in Ukraine, which Mr. Putin has said pose a threat on his nation’s doorstep. U.S. officials say that Russia has carried out even larger and more provocative exercises near NATO territory; Moscow says it has a right to move troops around within its own borders.

The U.S. has already made some small steps in this regard: It hasn’t carried out naval operations in the Black Sea since December, after conducting at least eight missions there last year.

Troop numbers and the elements of force posture in NATO countries will not be discussed in the coming meetings, the senior administration official added.

For Mr. Biden, this latest foreign-policy crisis presents an opportunity to restore America’s credibility and commitment to allies after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year created tensions with capitals across Europe.

While U.S. officials stress the need for coordination with allies, this has presented challenges where sanctions are concerned, according to several U.S. officials. The Biden administration has vowed to impose crippling punitive measures on Moscow if it continues its aggression along Ukraine’s border, but any sanctions targeting Russia’s financial system or energy sector would reverberate across Europe.

U.S. officials don’t know if their proposals will satisfy Moscow, which has publicized its own proposal that would compel NATO to retract a 2008 statement that Ukraine and Georgia will one day become members of the alliance and forgo eastward expansion. The Russian proposal would also require NATO to roll back deployments on the territory of its new Central and Eastern European members.

“We want to stop any expansion towards ourselves by NATO," Mr. Ryabkov told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “This is something that is regarded here in Moscow, including at the level of the president himself, as being quite urgent."


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