WASHINGTON -- The United States has ordered the departure of the families of employees of its embassy in Kyiv and said all U.S. citizens should consider leaving Ukraine due to the threat of military action from Russia.
The State Department on January 23 told dependents of staffers at the embassy that they must leave, while nonessential embassy employees can voluntarily leave at government expense. The orders were issued "due to the continued threat of Russian military action," the department said in a statement. The statement added that the U.S. government “will not be in a position to evacuate” U.S. citizens in Ukraine, so they should ”plan accordingly” by considering the use of commercial options to leave, a senior State Department official said in a conference call with reporters. "These are prudent precautions that in no way undermine our support for or commitment to Ukraine," the official said. The official declined to give an estimate of how many Americans live in Ukraine but stressed that the U.S. Embassy “is going to continue to operate in an uninterrupted way to support Ukraine at this critical moment." The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders and in Russia-occupied Crimea and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, "are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice," the statement said. "Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv." The State Department statement noted recent reports that Russia was planning significant military action against Ukraine, but the official who briefed reporters did not cite any specific event that had preceded the announcement.
Asked if the order for dependents of embassy staff to leave implied that the United States thought Kyiv could come under threat, the senior State Department official responded that it was trying to act prudently. The official said that Russia could attack at any moment, but the United States did not know whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had made up his mind.
"We're not saying we know that [an invasion] will happen. None of us know what President Putin will decide. And at the same time that we're doing this prudent planning and taking measures, we are still very engaged on a diplomatic path," said the senior State Department official. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused NATO countries of escalating tensions around Ukraine even after top diplomats of the U.S. and Russia on January 21 agreed to keep working to ease tensions. The Kremlin denies any intentions to invade its neighbor but has made de-escalation conditional on treaties guaranteeing NATO will not expand further eastward, especially to Ukraine. The State Department also warned Americans against travel to Ukraine. It had already posted such warning, citing COVID-19, but the new measures carry a stronger language. The State Department also warned Americans not to travel to Russia due to the mounting tensions. Americans could face "harassment," and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow would have limited ability to assist, a statement said. U.S. citizens should avoid traveling to the Russia-Ukraine border region in particular, it said. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier on January 23 rejected calls for preemptive sanctions against Russia, saying that doing so would undermine the West’s ability to deter Moscow from any further potential aggression against Ukraine. Actions the U.S. is taking now, including building unity with Europe and threatening massive consequences for Russia if it invades, are “designed to factor into President Putin's calculus and to deter and dissuade them from taking aggressive action, even as we pursue diplomacy at the same time,” Blinken said.