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Washington orders the evacuation of non-essential personnel from its embassy in Kiev

The UK has also decided to begin repatriating its diplomats. The Ukrainian authorities have described the move as "premature"
AFP/SERGEI SUPINSKY

AFP/SERGEI SUPINSKY  -   U.S. Embassy building in Kiev, 24 January 2022 Ukraine said on 24 January that it was "premature" for the United States to evacuate the families of its diplomatic staff in Kiev due to fears of an imminent Russian invasion.

The State Department has ordered the families of diplomats at the US embassy in Kiev to leave Ukraine, warning that "Russian military action could come at any time". Washington has also authorised the evacuation of non-essential embassy staff and urged its nationals in Ukraine to leave the country. The State Department is taking these steps after they were requested by the US embassy in Kiev last week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly informed President Volodymyr Zelensky of this decision during his visit to Kiev. According to sources close to the Ukrainian government, Zelensky told CNN that if the US were to take such a dramatic step, it would be an "overreaction".

AFP/KAY NIETFELD
AFP/KAY NIETFELD - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a news conference after meeting with his German, French and British counterparts at the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin.

Despite this announcement, Washington has stressed that this decision "in no way undermines support for Ukraine". The State Department is clarifying the issue so as not to again provoke misgivings among its allies in Ukraine, as it did recently after controversial remarks by President Joe Biden. The US leader, during a press conference, claimed that a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine would have lesser consequences than an invasion. The Ukrainian authorities condemned these remarks, accusing Biden of "giving Vladimir Putin the green light to enter whenever he wants". Zelensky also expressed his outrage on his Twitter account. "There are no minor incursions. Just as there are no minor casualties and little pain for the loss of loved ones," he wrote. 

Mapa que muestra los Estados miembros de la Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte (OTAN) y los países que pretenden adherirse AFP/AFP
AFP/AFP - Map showing the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the countries that intend to join.

Still, the Ukrainian government has described Washington's move as "premature". Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko reminded his US partners that there have been "no radical changes in the recent security situation" and that "the build-up of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border began in April last year". "The threat of new waves of Russian aggression has remained constant since 2014," it added in a statement. However, despite the foreign ministry seeking to reassure its allies, the latest defence ministry intelligence report reveals that Russia has deployed more than 127,000 troops in the region.

Un militar de las Fuerzas Militares de Ucrania, observa a través de un catalejo en un refugio en la línea del frente con los separatistas apoyados por Rusia, cerca de Gorlivka, región de Donetsk, el 23 de enero de 2022 AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV
AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV - A serviceman of the Ukrainian Military Forces looks through a spyglass at a shelter on the front line with Russian-backed separatists near Gorlivka, Donetsk region, 23 January 2022.
London begins evacuation of its diplomatic delegation

Following in the footsteps of the United States, the UK has also begun to repatriate some of its diplomatic staff and their families from the British Embassy in Kiev. Like Washington, London has reported that the embassy will continue to operate on an uninterrupted basis. The European Union, on the other hand, has assured that it has no plans to withdraw its officials. Josep Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, said there was no need to "dramatise the situation", backing the Ukrainian view on the issue.

According to The New York Times, Russia is also withdrawing its diplomats from Ukraine. Ukrainian sources told the US newspaper that Russian delegations began leaving the country on 5 January. However, Oleg Nikolenko has stated that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has received no information about the alleged evacuation of Russian personnel.

Aviadores del 436º Escuadrón de Puerto Aéreo paletizan municiones, armas y otros equipos con destino a Ucrania durante una misión de ventas militares extranjeras en la Base de la Fuerza Aérea de Dover, en Delaware, Estados Unidos, el 21 de enero de 2022 U.S. Air Force/Mauricio Campino via REUTERS
U.S. Air Force/Mauricio Campino via REUTERS - Airmen from the 436th Air Port Squadron palletize ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, U.S., 21 January 2022

On the other hand, Moscow has denied the New York Times report. "Despite provocations and aggressive behaviour of local radicals, I repeat that our missions are operating as usual," stressed Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Ukraine receives second US shipment 

The State Department, in addition to the announcement on the US Embassy in Kiev, also stressed the Biden Administration's position on the crisis in Ukraine. "We remain on the path of diplomacy," he stressed. However, while Washington advocates diplomacy, it has already shipped its second batch of weapons to Ukraine. "More than 80 tons of weapons to strengthen Ukraine's defence capabilities from our friends in the United States! And this is not the end," Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's defence minister, wrote on Twitter.

 Miembros de las Fuerzas de Defensa Territorial de Ucrania, unidades militares voluntarias de las Fuerzas Armadas, entrenan en un parque de la ciudad en Kyiv, Ucrania, el 22 de enero de 2022. Decenas de civiles se han unido a las reservas del ejército ucraniano en las últimas semanas ante el temor de una invasión rusa AP/EFREM LUKATSKY
AP/EFREM LUKATSKY - Members of the Territorial Defence Forces of Ukraine, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine, 22 January 2022. Dozens of civilians have joined the Ukrainian army reserves in recent weeks amid fears of a Russian invasion.

The first shipment arrived on Friday. The shipment included "nearly 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for Ukraine's frontline defenders", as reported by the US embassy in Kiev. The supply of US weapons is not new, as Washington has long supported Ukraine militarily. In this regard, Blinken has reaffirmed his commitment to Kiev. "The entry of a single Russian soldier" into Ukraine "in an aggressive manner would provoke an immediate, severe and unified response from the United States and Europe", the secretary of state warned CNN.

EU and US work out a coordinated response to alleged Russian invasion

This Monday, the 27 EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels to revisit the situation in Ukraine. The summit will also be attended virtually by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as the EU and the United States seek to develop a joint and coordinated response to possible Russian aggression.

Un póster del presidente ruso Vladimir Putin se utiliza como práctica de tiro a lo largo de una trinchera en la línea del frente con los separatistas apoyados por Rusia cerca de la aldea de Zolote, en la región de Lugansk, el 21 de enero de 2022 AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV
AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV - A poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin is used as target practice along a frontline trench with Russian-backed separatists near the village of Zolote, Lugansk region, on January 21, 2022.

Diplomats took stock of recent developments and reaffirmed their commitment to Kiev. They also warned Moscow of sanctions. "The EU is ready to hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine," warned Danish Foreign Minister Jappe Kofod, according to DW. During the meeting, it has been proposed to isolate Russia from the SWIFT global payment system, but a group of countries led by Germany rejected the move.

Simon Coveney, Ireland's chief diplomat, announced that Russia intends to conduct military exercises off the southwest coast of Ireland: "We have no power to prevent this from happening, but I have certainly made it clear to the Russian ambassador to Ireland that he is not welcome," the minister said. 

​  AP/VIRGINIA MAYO - El jefe de la política exterior de la Unión Europea, Josep Borrell, habla con los medios de comunicación a su llegada a una reunión de ministros de Asuntos Exteriores de la UE en el edificio del Consejo Europeo en Bruselas, el lunes 24 de enero de 2022  ​
​AP/VIRGINIA MAYO - European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.

Blinken will hold an "informal exchange" with his European partners, who will be briefed on his dialogue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday. They will also discuss Belarus, Syria, Kazakhstan and Libya. 

According to DW, EU insiders have complained that the bloc "is being marginalised" in the talks between Russia and the US. At the NATO-Russia summit a few weeks ago, the Alliance Council was led by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Negotiations with Russia's Lavrov, on the other hand, were conducted by a US delegation led by Blinken.