Defense

White House denies report it’s considering withdrawing troops from Eastern Europe

Vladimir Putin
Associated Press-Evan Vucci/Pool Sputnik Kremlin via AP-Mikhail Metzel

The White House is pushing back on an NBC News report that the Biden administration is prepared to propose scaling back troop deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe next week as the U.S. and Russia are poised to meet about Moscow’s security demands.

An administration official told NBC that it is “compiling a list of options for force posture changes in Europe to discuss with Russia” at the talks, adding that the U.S. is prepared to discuss specific moves if Russia is willing to scale back its own presence. 

Russia would have to take equivalent steps to scale back its own military presence in the region beyond scaling back troops in Ukraine, officials told the outlet. 

“It is not accurate that the administration is developing options for pulling back U.S. forces in Eastern Europe in preparation for discussions with Russia next week, which we told NBC while they were reporting this story,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne told The Hill in a statement.

“In fact, we have been clear with Russia, publicly and privately, that should Russia further invade Ukraine we would reinforce our NATO Allies on the eastern flank, to whom we have a sacred obligation,” she continued. “We are firmly tightly lashed up with our NATO Allies as we address this crisis together, on the principle of ‘nothing about you without you.’”

Officials from Washington and Moscow are expected to meet on Monday as fears grow that Russia may be planning to invade Ukraine, a move that would be similar to 2014, when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

That meeting will be followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday and a Thursday meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) permanent council, of which Russia is a member.

Russia laid out its demands for the U.S. and NATO last month, in which demanded the alliance deny Ukraine membership to NATO and to roll back its military deployments.

Notably, Moscow is also proposing that the U.S. not establish any military bases in former Soviet states that are not part of the alliance, nor develop bilateral military cooperation with them.

Asked about whether the U.S. was looking at all options ahead of next week’s talks, including posture changes, senior State Department administration officials told reporters that drawing down troops in Europe was not on the table.

“We are not weighing cuts to troops in Europe as the erroneous report that is circulating suggests,” one State Department official said.

“The administration is not discussing with Russia the number of troops stationed in the Baltics and Poland,” the official continued. “And contrary to an unnamed official quoted in this erroneous report, the administration is not compiling a list of force posture changes to discuss in the upcoming talks.” 

The Biden administration has warned that it is preparing harsh sanctions if Russia chooses to invade Ukraine. President Biden most recently warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of such sanctions during a phone call late last month.

“I made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any more moves, if he goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe with our NATO allies. There will be a heavy price to pay for it,” Biden told reporters a day after the Dec. 30 call.

— Laura Kelly contributed reporting.

Updated: 5:11 p.m.

Tags Joe Biden National Security Council Russia Russian Annexation of Crimea U.S. U.S. military U.S.-Russia relations Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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