The State Department on Sunday ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine to leave the country amid heightened fears of a Russian invasion.
The department told the dependents of staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv that they must leave the country. It also said that non-essential embassy staff could leave Ukraine at government expense.
The move came amid rising tensions about Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border that were not eased during talks Friday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.
U.S. said it was ordering the departure of eligible family members of staff from its embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, pictured here in 2017
Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine. Dozens of civilians have been joining Ukraine’s army reserves in recent weeks amid fears about Russian invasion
Russia has denied it is planning an invasion, but Vladimir Putin has issued demands to the West which he says concern Russia’s security, including not allowing Ukraine to join Nato
State Department officials stressed the Kyiv embassy will remain open and that the announcement does not constitute an evacuation.
The move had been under consideration for some time and does not reflect an easing of U.S. support for Ukraine, the officials said.
In a statement, the State Department noted recent reports that Russia was planning significant military action against Ukraine. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has accused NATO countries of escalating tensions around Ukraine with disinformation.
The State Department added: ‘The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine´s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.
State Department officials stressed the Kyiv embassy will remain open and that the announcement does not constitute an evacuation (file photo from 2017)
People rallying in patriotic support of Ukraine hold a 500 meter long ribbon in the colours of the Ukrainian flag on Unity Day (January 22)
Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit train in a forest on Saturday, with thousands of civilians receiving basic combat training
Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv.’
The department’s travel advisory, which had warned against traveling to Ukraine because of COVID-19 as well as the tensions over Russia, was changed Sunday to carry a stronger warning.
‘Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19. Exercise increased caution in Ukraine due to crime and civil unrest. Some areas have increased risk,’ the department advised.
People with Ukrainian flags attend a patriotic rally at Sophia Square on Unity Day. Speakers at the rally demanded Ukrainian membership in the European Union and the NATO military alliance and derided Russian President Vladimir Putin
A Russian rocket launcher fires during military drills near Orenburg in the Urals, Russia, last month
On Sunday night it was also revealed how President Biden is considering deploying several thousand American troops together with warships and aircraft, to NATO ally countries located in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.
Such a move would be a change of tact for the Biden administration which up to now has been restrained over the situation in Ukraine, partly to avoid provoking Russia into invading the country.
After Friday’s talks appear to have failed, Russian President Vladimir Putin now appeared to be ratcheting up threatening actions towards Ukraine.
In doing so, the U.S. is now moving away from its previous stance of not wanting to provoke the Russian administration sources told the New York Times.
During a meeting in Camp David over the weekend, Pentagon officials outlined various options to President Biden, many of which would see American military might move a step closer to the Russian border.
Among the strategies being considered, between 1,000 to 5,000 troops could be relocated to countries in Eastern Europe with a potential to increase to 50,000 should the need arise.
The talks that ended in Geneva last week produced no breakthroughs, though American and Russian diplomats vowed to keep a dialogue up, averting the worst-case scenario.
Lavrov said Moscow was still waiting for a written response to its demands for security guarantees, something which Blinken said he would not provide.
He also called two of Russia’s key demands aimed at curbing NATO expansion ‘non-starters.’
Blinken made a slew of Sunday news program appearances after returning from diplomatic talks in Europe over the crisis
On Sunday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken admitted on NBC’s Meet The Press that Moscow could still invade the smaller former Soviet state despite the efforts of Western governments.
The US’s chief diplomat also would not rule out possible American military involvement in the worsening conflict, during a separate interview on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.
‘It is certainly possible that the diplomacy the Russians are engaged in is simply going through the motions and it won’t affect their ultimate decision about whether to invade or in some other way intervene, or not in Ukraine,’ Blinken told NBC host Chuck Todd.
‘But, we have a responsibility to see the diplomacy through for as, as far and as long as we can go because it’s the more responsible way to bring this to a closure.’
Members of the Ukrainian army inspect the vehicles entering and leaving the city at the points they strengthen with concrete blocks, on Sunday in Kostiantynivka, Ukraine
A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman, looks on in a dugout on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near Gorlivka, Donetsk region on Sunday
A Ukrainian Serviceman of the 30th Army Brigade are seen outside of Svitlodarsk, Ukraine on Sunday
Blinken did not indicate when he thought a possible invasion would occur — but also would not give a straight answer when asked if Kyiv ‘appears safe, at least in the near term.’
‘This is something again that we’re tracking intensely, hour by hour and certainly day by day,’ he said.
Blinken ratcheted up his warnings to Moscow during his interview on CNN, claiming it could take a single soldier crossing the border to trigger a global reaction.
‘If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe,’ he told host Dana Bash.
Vladimir Putin has placed more than 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, and last week Blinken warned that Russia had the capability to double that number in short order. Moscow has said it has no plans to invade Ukraine.