US weighs pulling diplomats' family members out of Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the US embassy in Kyiv, on Jan 19, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States is weighing whether to evacuate family members of diplomats stationed in Ukraine as Russia masses more than 100,000 troops on its borders, according to people familiar with the matter.

Under the plan, family members would be ordered to return home while non-essential employees would be able to leave voluntarily.

An announcement may come within days, according to the people, who asked not to be identified before a decision is reached.

The US employs about 180 American citizens and 560 Ukrainians at its embassy in Kiev, according to the embassy website.

That does not include family members, so the number of US citizens living in embassy housing is probably much higher.

The Biden administration has been ramping up its warnings over a potential invasion by Russian troops near Ukraine's borders even as negotiations between the US, Russia and Europe continue.

A decision to evacuate does mean the US is certain that Russia will invade and simply reflects prudent preparations as tensions rise, one of the people said.

A White House official characterised the situation as part of normal contingency planning in case the security situation deteriorates, and the person emphasised that Ukraine already has the highest-level travel warning over the Covid-19 situation in the country.

A European Union diplomat said embassies of member nations have presumably made contingency plans, although no steps have yet been taken to send home family members.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that Russia has evacuated family members and some staff from its diplomatic missions in Ukraine.

The US consideration of an evacuation comes amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings that have so far failed to ease the crisis. At a meeting in Geneva on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands and meet again, but no breakthrough was reached.

Following the talks in Switzerland on Friday, Mr Blinken told reporters "if Russia wants to begin to convince the world that it has no aggressive intent toward Ukraine, a very good place to start would be de-escalating".

Mr Lavrov dismissed Western "hysteria" over Ukraine and repeated that Moscow has no plans to attack its neighbour.

He repeated charges that Nato is the aggressor in the crisis.

"What Nato is now doing toward Ukraine clearly shows that Nato sees Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence," Mr Lavrov said.

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