U.S. suggests it's open to limiting military exercises, missile deployments in talks with Russia

A senior official says the United States is open to discussions with Russia on curtailing possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on U.S. and NATO military exercises in eastern Europe as part of strategic talks to begin next week.

Ukraine the subject of meetings between U.S. and Russian diplomats on Monday

A Ukrainian marine looks on at a fighting position on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, in Ukraine's Donetsk region on Friday. U.S. President Joe Biden has warned Russia's Vladimir Putin that the U.S. could impose new sanctions against Russia if it takes further military action against Ukraine. (Andriy Dubchak/The Associated Press)

The United States and allies are prepared to discuss with Russia in talks about Ukraine the possibility of each side restricting military exercises and missile deployments in the region, a senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday.

With crucial talks set to start on Monday in Geneva, the senior Biden administration official said the U.S. is not willing to discuss limits on U.S. troop deployments or the U.S. force posture in NATO countries in the region.

President Joe Biden has warned that Russia will face severe economic consequences if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to launch an invasion of Ukraine. U.S. officials on Saturday provided more details on tough sanctions that could be imposed.

One restriction, described by a source familiar with the plan, could target critical Russian industrial sectors, including defence and civil aviation, and would invariably hit Russia's high-tech ambitions, such as in artificial intelligence, quantum computing or even consumer electronics.

Fears of invasion

The Geneva talks, to be followed by other sessions next week in Brussels and Vienna, are aimed at averting a crisis. Putin has amassed tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine, generating fears of an invasion.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. and its European allies can make progress in the talks with Moscow. Putin wants an end to NATO's eastward expansion and security guarantees, demands that the U.S. says are unacceptable.

But the senior U.S. official, briefing reporters ahead of the talks, said some areas present opportunities for common ground.

"Any discussion of those overlapping areas where we might be able to make progress would have to be reciprocal," the official said. "Both sides would need to make essentially the same commitment."

Russia says it feels threatened by the prospect of the U.S. deploying offensive missile systems in Ukraine, even though Biden has assured Putin he has no intention of doing so.

"So this is one area where we may be able to reach an understanding if Russia is willing to make a reciprocal commitment," the official said.

U.S. exploring penalties if Russia invades Ukraine

The U.S. is also willing to discuss restrictions by both sides on military exercises, the official said.

"We are 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 territory and ground-based exercises as well."

The official said Washington is open to a broader discussion on missile deployment in the region. In 2019, then-U.S. president Donald Trump withdrew from the 1987 U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, on accusations Moscow was violating the accord.

A separate senior Biden administration official said penalties being explored in the case of a Russian invasion would not start low and be tightened over time.

"Instead, we would adopt a 'start high, stay high' approach in which we — in co-ordination with our allies and partners — would immediately impose severe and overwhelming costs on Russia's economy, including its financial system and sectors deemed critical to the Kremlin," the official said.

The U.S. has been discussing with allies and partners in Europe and Asia a range of trade restrictions under consideration, the source familiar with the planning said.

No decisions have yet been made, but restrictions under consideration could impact U.S. products exported to Russia and certain foreign-made products subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

Russia could be added to the most restrictive group of countries for export control purposes, together with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. These actions could also restrict export of products made abroad if they contain more than a specified percentage of U.S. content.

In addition, consideration is being given to exercising U.S. jurisdiction — through the Foreign Direct Product Rule used for Chinese telecom company Huawei — over exports to Russia of all microelectronics designed with U.S. software or technology, or produced using U.S. equipment.