US denies it is negotiating with Russia to cut its troops in Europe

Washington says it is prepared to respond "forcefully" to a possible Russian offensive in Ukraine
Antony Blinken

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken

The US State Department on Friday denied that it is considering reducing US troops in Eastern Europe to facilitate next week's talks with Russia on the Ukraine border crisis. "I have seen reports suggesting that this Administration is considering withdrawing US troops in Eastern Europe to prepare for these talks. I want to be very clear that this is not true," Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a call with reporters.

Sherman denied reports on NBC that the US government was preparing to reduce its troop presence in Eastern Europe. Sherman, who will take part in meetings between Washington and NATO and Moscow next week, stressed that if Russia invades Ukraine, the United States and the alliance "will reinforce their flank in Eastern Europe".

PHOTO/AFP  -  Ukrainian military patrol along a frontline position with Russian-backed separatists, not far from Avdiivka, Donetsk region

The deputy secretary of state explained that the United States has provided the Ukrainian government with $2.5 billion in military assistance over the past seven years, and that it is preparing to increase this amount. "If Russia invades Ukraine, we will provide more defensive equipment for Ukraine, but I want to be clear that the assistance will be to help Ukraine defend itself," Sherman said.

Sherman's call with reporters came hours after a press conference by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said he was confident that a "diplomatic solution" with Russia over Ukraine was still possible.

"We are prepared to respond forcefully to Russian aggression, but we believe that a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable," Blinken said after a telematic meeting with NATO foreign ministers.

Biden y Putin
AP/DENIS BALIBOUSE  -  US President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right

In recent weeks, tensions have escalated over fears of a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, which Ukrainian and US sources say could come early this year. Russia has denied that it is preparing for an offensive and said that the West is paying too much attention to troop movements within Russia's borders.

A bilateral security talks between Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Riabkov will take place in Geneva on Monday 10 January. Two days later, on 12 January, the NATO-Russia Council will be held in Brussels, followed the next day by a meeting in Vienna hosted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

These talks are expected to discuss the security guarantees that Moscow has requested in writing from the US and NATO to de-escalate current tensions, which were the focus of last week's phone call between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.