US State Department Officially Orders Diplomats' Families, Non-Essential Staffers to Leave Ukraine

© REUTERS / Gleb GaranichA member of the National Guard stands guard in front of the U.S. embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, June 8, 2017.
A member of the National Guard stands guard in front of the U.S. embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, June 8, 2017. - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.01.2022
The United States Department of State (DOS) has ordered the departure of eligible family members from its embassy in Kiev, Ukraine. The DOS also authorised the voluntary departure of direct hire employees. The orders are in response to reports that "Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine".
On Sunday, the State Department upgraded Ukraine's level four travel advisory, stating, "Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19". The country had already been at level four due to COVID-19 concerns.
The State Department's alert stressed for all Americans in Ukraine to depart the country as soon as possible.
"On January 23, 2022, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of US direct hire employees and ordered the departure of eligible family members from Embassy Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action", reads the statement. "US citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options".

"There are reports Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine", it continues, underscoring that the security conditions "are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice".

The possibility of a Russian military action in Ukraine would severely limit the US Embassy's ability to provide services to Americans in Ukraine, according to the State Department.
Shortly after the release was issued, the State Department issued "do not travel" notices for Russia, citing ongoing "tensions" along Russia's border with Ukraine.

"Do not travel to Russia due to ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens, the embassy's limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law", the State Department said on Sunday.

A senior US State Department official has indicated that the US Embassy would continue to operate in an uninterrupted manner. Asked about how many Americans were stationed in Ukraine, the official was not able to provide an accurate figure.
Despite its latest actions, the same official further noted that the US was still interested in finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis, adding that the evacuation call was wholly meant as a "precaution".

"I also want to be clear that we're not saying we know that [a Russian invasion in Ukraine] will happen, none of us know what [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin will decide but at the same time we're doing this prudent planning and taking these measures we are still very engaged on a diplomatic path", a State Department official said at a Sunday briefing, explaining the reasons behind the new travel advisory.

Sunday's announcement came days after the US agency denied reports that it would be planning to evacuate relatives of embassy staffers in Kiev.

The US-Russia Tug of War Over Ukraine

Tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine have been building since the Crimea Peninsula joined Russia in 2014. Russia asserts that they legally took over the territory through a referendum, whereas the West has repeatedly referred to it as a military invasion.
On Saturday, a report out of the United Kingdom claimed that Russia is aiming to replace the current Ukrainian government with a pro-Moscow leadership. The assertion was based on an intelligence assessment to which the UK government provided no evidence to back its claims.
Russia's Foreign Ministry has refuted the UK's claims, with officials referring to the accusations as complete "nonsense".
Ukraine, the United States, and its NATO allies have accused Russia of amassing over 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian-Russian border. The Kremlin has refuted the claims and has pointed to NATO military activity near Russia as a threat to their security.

"Ukraine is perceived by the West as an instrument of influence, of carrying out its interests in the region, destabilising the situation, endlessly accusing us [Russia]", Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, told the newspaper Izvestia on Sunday.

Zakharova has stressed that Russia is waiting on a US response to their security proposals.

"We have submitted written proposals to our Western partners, first of all the United States. We have been very open in our actions ... Now we have responded immediately to their desire to hold some kind of clarification meeting. It was held despite the schedule... We are showing absolute cooperation, we are waiting for written answers to each of the points", Zakharova said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Russian counterpart this week to de-escalate the situation. The Kremlin has presented the Biden administration with security proposals, including an agreement with NATO to end its eastward expansion and to remove offensive weapons in countries bordering Russia. Washington has yet to provide a formal response.
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