The US is prepared to talk to Russia about the possibility of restricting military exercises and missile deployments in Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Saturday night.
A crucial set of talks are due to start on Monday in Geneva with the aim of averting a military conflict, as Russia masses tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine.
The senior US official, briefing reporters ahead of the talks, said there are some areas that present an opportunity for common ground.
“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.
It came as Joe Biden prepared to block Republican moves to hit the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline with sanctions, for fear the move could weaken the transatlantic relationship in the eyes of the Russian president.
The Democrats and the US President oppose the Senate legislation because it “would only serve to undermine unity amongst our European allies” even though the pipeline was “a harmful Russian geopolitical project”.
US and Russian diplomats will meet for a showdown summit on January 10, amid fears Russia plans to invade Ukraine and after Kremlin demands that Nato halt any expansion in Europe.
A spokesman said Nord Stream 2, which critics say will deepen EU dependence on Russian gas and undermine Ukrainian independence, was “a bad deal” for Ukraine and Europe.
But he added, “Russia would interpret any daylight in our position stemming from sanctions on Nord Stream 2 as an opportunity to exploit a fissure in the transatlantic relationship, and this administration is determined not to give them that.”
“The legislation would only serve to undermine unity amongst our European allies at a crucial moment when we need to present a unified front in response to Russian threats against Ukraine.”
Poland and the Baltic nations oppose the £8bn pipeline, which is awaiting approval from German regulators, because it bypasses Ukraine, robbing it of gas transit fees, and is set to double Russian gas exports to Germany.
There are fears that the Russian president will use the EU’s dependence on Russian gas to exert political leverage over the bloc and Ukraine says the pipeline threatens its security.