US orders personnel out of Ukraine on threat from Russia

Residents attending an open training for civilians in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb 20, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

KYIV (BLOOMBERG) - The United States evacuated State Department personnel and embassy operations from Ukraine to Poland on Monday (Feb 21), amid fears that security conditions could deteriorate following Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognition of two separatist regions in the eastern part of the country.

The US officials are expected to remain at a hotel just over the border with Poland, though they could return to Ukraine as soon as Tuesday if the State Department determines that the security situation has stabilised, according to multiple US officials who described the move on the condition of anonymity.

The move of the small contingent of American diplomats still in Ukraine comes after the US had already relocated its embassy from the capital of Kyiv to the western city of Lviv.

President Joe Biden warned Friday that US intelligence indicated Russia could launch an assault on the capital city, and the State Department for weeks has encouraged American citizens to depart the country before an outbreak of hostilities.

A White House spokesman declined to comment, while Russia has denied it intends to invade Ukraine.

Earlier Monday, Mr Putin announced he could deploy "peacekeeping" forces to the breakaway regions.

Embassy and consular activities will continue from Poland and the move is not intended to signal any shift in US support for Ukraine, according to two of the US officials.

The US alerted high-ranking officials in Ukraine before pulling out its embassy staff, and consulted with allies who also operate diplomatic facilities in the country.

Several other countries have moved their embassies and issued travel alerts warning their citizens not to travel to Ukraine, following US assessments that Russia could be planning to invade imminently.

There is hope that the move will compel Americans who remain in the country to get out as quickly as possible, one of the officials said. The move underscores concern that Russian military operations in Ukraine may not discriminate between military and civilian targets.

The official also said the US was working to offer assistance to Ukranian employees that worked at the embassy, maintaining payroll and offering some workers advances on their salaries.

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