US govt orders diplomats’ families to leave Ukraine

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Washington has also authorised the “voluntary” departure of its embassy employees, adding to tensions between Russia and the West over concerns of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, reports Asian Lite News

The United States has ordered the families of its diplomats in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to leave the country “due to the continued threat” of a Russian invasion, the State Department said Sunday.

Washington has also authorized the “voluntary” departure of its non-essential embassy staff and urged US citizens in the Eastern European country to “consider departing now,” saying it will not be in a position to evacuate them after any possible incursion by Moscow.

Russia has been massing tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

The movements have ignited stern warnings from Washington and Europe — but so far intense diplomacy has yielded little results.

The US embassy remains open and Charge d’Affaires Kristina Kvien is staying in the country for now, a senior State Department official told reporters.

The official repeated earlier warnings from the White House that an invasion could come at “any time.”

Washington “will not be in a position to evacuate US citizens in such a contingency,” the official said, urging Americans to consider leaving via commercial or private transport as soon as possible.

The official refused to specify the number of Americans on Ukrainian soil, but State Department representatives last month put the figure at between 10,000 and 15,000.

The State Department already advises against all travel to Ukraine because of the possibility of a Russian invasion.

On Sunday, it also advised against travel to Russia, particularly to areas on its border with Ukraine, warning that Americans could face “harassment” and that Washington would have “limited ability” to assist them.

US citizens “who are visiting or residing in Russia have been interrogated without cause, and threatened by Russian officials and may become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion,” the advisory said.

The Kremlin denies any intentions to invade its neighbor — but is making de-escalation conditional on treaties guaranteeing non-expansion of NATO, especially to Ukraine, and a withdrawal of the alliance from Eastern Europe.

Earlier Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed the idea of slapping punitive sanctions on Moscow before any potential invasion, saying they should be used as a means of “dissuading” an attack.

“Once sanctions are triggered, you lose the deterrent effect,” Blinken told CBS.

“So what we’re doing is putting together a whole series of actions that would figure into President (Vladimir) Putin’s calculus.”

That includes beefing up defenses in Ukraine with more military assistance, Blinken said.

90 tons of military aid arrives in Ukraine

Continued tensions between Ukraine and Russia have led to the U.S. providing 90 tons of military aid that arrived in Ukraine, as roughly 100,000 Russian troops remain stationed along the border.

The shipment is part of the additional $200 million of “lethal aid” approved by President Biden in late December and includes ammunition for Ukraine’s front-line defenders, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv tweeted. Overall, the U.S. has provided $650 million in defense equipment and services to Ukraine in the past year — the most it has ever given that country, according to the State Department.

“The United States and its allies and partners are standing together to expedite security assistance to Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet on Friday. “We are utilizing all available security cooperation tools to help Ukraine bolster its defenses in the face of Russian aggression.”

This comes after Blinken visited Kyiv and met with his Kremlin counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Switzerland earlier this week.

“We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today,” Blinken said at a news conference following his meeting Friday with Lavrov in Geneva. “But I believe we are now on a clear path in terms of understanding each other’s concerns and each other’s positions.”

Russia has continued to insist on a written guarantee that Ukraine won’t join NATO. Blinken said he made the U.S. position clear, which is to “stand firmly with Ukraine in support of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Blinken said that any military action on Russia’s side would “be met with swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies.” Russia has denied it has any intention of invading.

US concerned over Russia “Plot”

The United States finds accusations that Moscow aims to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine “deeply concerning,” the White House said Saturday in response to a report by the British Foreign Office.

“This kind of plotting is deeply concerning. The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

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