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US refuses to draw down troops in Eastern Europe

January 8, 2022

The US said it has no plans to cut troop numbers in Eastern Europe to defuse tensions with Russia. Top diplomat Antony Blinken said Russia is pushing a "false narrative" to justify troop deployments on Ukraine's border.

A Ukrainian marine looks on at a fighting position on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers have been monitoring pro-Russian separatists in the country's eastImage: Andriy Dubchak/AP Photo/picture alliance

The United States has dismissed reports that it is preparing to offer to cut troop numbers in Eastern Europe at talks next week with Russia over Ukraine.

US outlet NBC News, citing several sources, reported on Friday that Washington was ready to discuss scaling back US forces in Eastern Europe, with Russia also pulling back from the Ukrainian border and other parts of the region. 

"In fact, we have been clear with Russia, publicly and privately, that should Russia further invade Ukraine we would reinforce our NATO partners on the eastern flank, to whom we have [a] sacred obligation as allies," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price wrote on Twitter.

On Saturday, a senior US administration official insisting on anonymity told reporters on a White House-organized conference call that the US is willing to discuss certain topics. Missile deployments in Ukraine and limits on training exercises in Eastern Europe are open for discussion.

However, the official said agreements would depend on Russia's willingness to pull back forces from threatening Ukraine, and no agreements would be made without NATO and Ukraine involved in the discussion. The US said it is not willing to negotiate on the size of its forces or the amount of materiel on NATO's eastern flank. 

Deep concern over troop deployments

Russia has positioned over 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border in recent months, prompting concern in the West.

In December, Russia shared a list of grievances and demands with the US to restore relations. It included an end to NATO deployments on the alliance's eastern flank and no further NATO expansion in the region.

NATO has all but formally rejected these demands, saying Russia would not have a veto on the alliance's membership or dictate its operations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking in the briefing room of the State Department in Washington
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he hopes diplomacy will help ease tensions with RussiaImage: Andrew Harnik/REUTERS

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of "gaslighting" and pushing a "false narrative" that it was under threat from Ukraine and NATO to justify the troop buildup.

"That's like the fox saying it had to attack the hen house because its occupants somehow pose a threat. We've seen this gaslighting before," Blinken said, citing Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea and backing of separatists in the Donbas region.

He said a diplomatic solution was still possible and preferable.

US, Russia diplomats to meet in Geneva amid tensions

Ukraine is expected to be at the top of the agenda at several diplomatic meetings next week.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is scheduled to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva on Monday.

It's hoped the two veteran diplomats could help defuse tensions after months.

Monday's talks will be followed by a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday of the NATO Russian council, the first such meeting since 2019.

There will also be a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chaired by Poland in Vienna.

War of words on the eve of talks

While Ukraine may be the most pressing issue, events in Kazakhstan have also led to a war of words between the US State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry ahead of next week's diplomatic talks.

On Friday, Blinken cautioned with regard to Kazakhstan, "One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave."

For its part, Russia's Foreign Ministry took umbrage with Blinken's statement and wrote on its Telegram channel, "If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped."

Such offences would be subject to US military law, known as the US Uniform Code of Military Justice, and could potentially result in a court-martial for violations of conduct.

lo, ar/wd (dpa, Reuters)