WASHINGTON — The State Department said on Sunday it had ordered relatives of staff at the U.S. embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, to leave the country amid growing concerns over a possible Russian invasion.
The embassy will remain open for now, senior foreign ministry officials said in a briefing with reporters, but some diplomats have also been cleared to leave.
The State Department also cited the possibility of Russian military action to keep its travel risk rating at Level 4, the highest category, and urged US citizens not to travel to Ukraine. The advice was raised to that level last month due to concerns about Covid-19.
State Department officials said the measures were taken “out of an abundance of caution” but that the United States “would not be in a position” to evacuate American citizens if Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia has about 100,000 troops stationed near the border of the neighboring country.
“US citizens in Ukraine should be aware that Russian military action anywhere in Ukraine would seriously affect the ability of the US embassy to provide consular services, including assistance to US citizens leaving Ukraine,” it said. Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its travel advice.
Visa processing and most other consular services at the embassy are continuing for the time being, officials said.
The embassy is one of the larger American missions in Europe. It has a total of about 900 employees, the vast majority of them Ukrainians, some of whom have been with the mission since it opened three decades ago.
State Department officials said they did not know how many US citizens are currently in Ukraine.
Officials said they would review within 30 days whether relatives had left and whether authorized personnel had chosen to leave. They urged all other Americans in Ukraine to use commercial and private transportation options to leave as soon as possible.
The US embassy in neighboring Minsk, Belarus, issued a new warning Sunday evening, also calling on Americans to stay away from public demonstrations and consider leaving the country amid “reports of further unusual Russian military activity.” near the Ukrainian borders, including the border with Belarus”. Last week, foreign ministry officials accused Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin of moving troops, tanks and other equipment into Belarus and positioning them to invade Ukraine under the guise of conducting military exercises.
Britain on Saturday accused Putin of plotting to replace Ukraine’s government with pro-Russian leaders, and the foreign ministry has warned Moscow could spread false information that could later be used to justify an invasion .
President Biden has considered several options to expand America’s military presence in the region, including deploying several thousand US troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.
William Taylor, a retired veteran diplomat who has served as ambassador to Ukraine twice, said in an interview that he was not surprised by the decision of the State Department. He said talks had been going on for one to two months about a possible evacuation between the embassy and the State Department headquarters in Washington.
Understand the escalating tensions over Ukraine
“I think this is a wise move,” he said. “On the Russian side, there is the continuous build-up, the continued mass of troops.” He pointed out that the Russian army has missiles that can reach all of Ukraine and weapons that can launch artillery shells deep into Ukraine.
And tensions could mount in the coming week as the Biden administration ramps up deterrence measures, said Mr. Taylor, who most recently served as ambassador to President Donald J. Trump and testified at the former president’s first impeachment hearing, which focused on a pressure campaign. by Mr Trump involving Ukraine.
As a precaution, the State Department occasionally thins out the staff of US embassies and consulates during conflict or other crises that could endanger US diplomats.
Officials in the Biden administration remain scarred by the sudden fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, to the Taliban last August, resulting in the hasty evacuation of Afghan civilians, Americans and citizens of many other countries from the country.
Before the Taliban took over the city, Mr Biden had said there would be “no circumstance” under which US embassy employees in Kabul would have to be evacuated by helicopter — a statement made amid fears of the kind of chaotic departure that happened. with the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese army in April 1975.
Still, many people were helicoptered to Kabul airport in August, broadcasting the scenes of panic and violence around the world.
Multiple US embassies and consulates sent all but essential workers home in 2020 as the coronavirus swept the world. The US embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was one of the most recent to do so, in November when violence in the north of that country threatened to overwhelm the capital. Foreign ministry officials have said the evacuation of the embassy in Kabul was a factor in that decision.