US to discuss cutbacks on military exercises and missile deployments in Europe during Monday’s Russia talks

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

The Biden administration’s efforts are aimed at defusing tensions with Russia, which has deployed around 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. But they fall far short of meeting Moscow’s demands that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stop its eastward expansion and cease training, exercises and military support to Ukraine and other parts of the country. the former Soviet Union.

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

A military escalation along the Ukrainian border further strained ties between Russia and the United States, after clashes over cybercrime, expulsions of diplomats and a migrant crisis in Belarus. The WSJ explains what is driving the wedge between Washington and Moscow. Composite Photo / Video: Michelle Inez Simon

U.S. and EU negotiators will begin a series of meetings with Russia next week, which will kick off Sunday evening in Geneva when Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has a working dinner with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Official 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 on Thursday will take place under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Ukraine and Russia are members.

US officials on Saturday described three areas in which they hope to make progress with Russia: arms deployments in Ukraine, missile deployments in Europe and military exercises on the continent.

Russian officials have repeatedly complained that the United States could deploy missiles on Ukrainian territory that could strike targets in Russia, although President Biden told President Putin last month that the United States does not had no intention of doing so.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov at a meeting last year in Geneva.


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American Mission Geneva // Reuters

On Saturday, the senior administration official said the White House was ready to officially codify Mr. Biden’s position if Moscow made a reciprocal commitment.

US officials also predicted possible progress on intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The United States withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 after accusing Moscow of violating the agreement by deploying a banned cruise missile, the 9M729. Russia has denied the allegation.

The Trump administration has rejected Russian proposals for a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range ground missiles in Europe, saying such measures could tie the hands of the United States without leading to the elimination of the 9M729 missiles. But the Biden administration is now open to exploring limiting these missiles, a US official said.

“Russia has also expressed interest in discussing the future of certain missile systems in Europe, within the meaning of the INF Treaty, which Russia has violated and from which the previous US administration has withdrawn,” said the American official. “We are also open to discussing this possibility. “

A third area in which he hopes there will be convergence with Russia concerns the reduction of military exercises in Europe. Such a move, which should be reciprocal, would reduce US military operations in the region.

Russian troops at a firing range in the Rostov region of southern Russia in mid-December.


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Associated press

The United States 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 exercises as well,” the United States said. senior administration official.

Russia has cited US and NATO military exercises across Europe as a “red line” for Russia, especially in Ukraine, which Mr Putin says poses a threat at its doorstep. country. US officials say Russia has carried out even larger and more provocative exercises near NATO territory; Moscow claims to have the right to move troops within its own borders.

The United States has already taken a few small steps in this regard: it has not conducted naval operations in the Black Sea since December, having conducted at least eight missions there last year.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke on Friday after a meeting of foreign ministers on Russian-Ukrainian tensions.


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John Thys / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

The number of troops and the elements of the force apparatus in the NATO countries will not be discussed at the next meetings, added the senior official of the administration.

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

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

A press briefing on cruise missile systems in 2019, organized by the Russian defense and foreign ministries.


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maxim shemetov / Reuters

U.S. officials are unsure whether their proposals will satisfy Moscow, which has released its own proposal that would force NATO to withdraw a 2008 declaration that Ukraine and Georgia will one day become members of the alliance and renounce the alliance. expansion to the East. The Russian proposal would also require NATO to cancel deployments to the territory of its new members from Central and Eastern Europe.

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

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com and Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com

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Mary I. Bruner