By Kaitlan Collins and Natasha Bertrand, CNN
Russia had amassed troops near the Ukraine border over the last few months, which US intelligence has assessed as preparation for a full-scale invasion in early 2022. The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement Saturday that 10,000 troops had return to their permanent bases after completing training near the Ukrainian border.
The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Russia and threatened economic sanctions over a potential invasion of Ukraine, saying that the US is “ready to act if and when we need to,” while the US also pursues diplomatic engagement with Russia. President Joe Biden appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month to de-escalate tensions.
Russia has been demanding security guarantees from the US and NATO, including a binding pledge that NATO won’t expand further east and will not allow Ukraine to join the military alliance.
Biden has previously signaled that the US will not make any concessions on either NATO or Ukraine’s future.
“President Biden’s approach on Ukraine has been clear and consistent: Unite the alliance behind two tracks: deterrence and diplomacy. We are unified as an Alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine. But we are also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia,” the NSC spokesman said in a statement.
Russia and NATO also intend to hold a separate meeting on January 12, both the NSC spokesman and a NATO press officer confirmed to CNN.
Both sides are also expected to engage during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe scheduled for January 13, according to the US spokesman.
“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well,” the NSC spokesman said. “We will adhere to the principle of ‘nothing about our Allies and partners without our Allies and partners, including Ukraine.’ There will be areas where we can make progress, and areas where we will disagree. That’s what diplomacy is about.”
US officials plan to consult with Ukraine regularly on the side as the negotiations take place next month, a White House official told CNN, since Ukraine is not a member of two of the three bodies set to meet in early January to discuss the country’s future and Russia’s demands that NATO not expand further eastward.
Asked why the White House plans to use the US-Russia strategic stability dialogue — traditionally reserved for nuclear arms talks — for talks about Ukraine and NATO, the official said the administration wanted to use an existing format as a vehicle for the talks instead of creating a new one specifically for that purpose. The US and Russia are still going back and forth over the agenda.
The official said the White House believes talks would be more productive in an environment of de-escalation, but said the status of the talks were not contingent upon Russia drawing down. The White House still believes diplomacy is the most responsible path forward “even if we don’t get everything we want,” the official said.
This story has been updated.
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CNN’s Anna Chernova and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.