U.S. Embassy Staff in Ukraine Have Been Relocated to Poland
They are “essentially commuting,” said a State Department spokesperson.
U.S. embassy staff in Ukraine were moved out of the country on Monday, one week after the embassy itself was relocated out of Kyiv due to increased tensions with Russia.
“For security reasons, Department of State personnel currently in Lviv will spend the night in Poland,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Monday. “Our personnel will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services. They will continue to support the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government, coordinating on diplomatic efforts.”
On Tuesday, the White House started calling Russia’s troop deployments in eastern Ukraine an “invasion,” after initial hesitation to use the term, The Associated Press reported.
In late January, the State Department authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. employees from Ukraine as well as ordered the departure of family members of U.S. employees at the embassy in Kyiv. On Feb. 11, the department further reduced the number of staff to only those performing essential services and directed the rest to leave immediately. On a background briefing call, a senior State Department official could not provide specific numbers for security reasons.
Then on Feb. 14, Blinken announced that the department was temporarily relocating the embassy in Kyiv to Lviv (which is in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland) due to Russia’s increased buildup of forces.
“The United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s aggression is unwavering,” said Blinken in the recent statement. “The fact that we are taking prudent precautions for the sake of the safety of U.S. government personnel and U.S. citizens, as we do regularly worldwide, in no way undermines our support for, or our commitment to, Ukraine.”
Ned Price, State Department spokesperson, said during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon that personnel “have been spending the night in Poland, but they have been regularly essentially commuting back into Lviv…We have every expectation they will continue to do so as long as the security environment remains permissive.”
As for American citizens in Ukraine, U.S. officials have been warning for some time that they should leave as soon as they can due to the unpredictability of the situation and because the government won’t necessarily be able to evacuate remaining Americans if Russia invades the country.
“We are going to do everything we can to guide Americans who want to leave, to help them get out,” said Blinken on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. He also noted that, “Every time in places around the world where for one reason or another we’ve had to shut down an embassy, Americans have remained.”
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared he was granting formal diplomatic recognition to two areas that Russian proxy forces have occupied since 2014, which “essentially collapses the Minsk ceasefire agreement installed after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine,” Defense One reported. “Putin said he would send Russian forces into the eastern Ukrainian republics as ‘peacekeepers.’” President Biden strongly rebuked this.
The move comes after weeks of warnings from U.S. officials that Russia planned to stage a series of “false flag” operations in Eastern Ukraine to justify military action. Last week, Russian proxy forces in the region made a number of heavily-disputed claims related to Ukraine. Russian officials cited the claims in asking Putin for recognition of the areas as independent of Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield decried the Russian use of the term “peacekeepers” to label an invading military force as “nonsense.”
Then on Tuesday Putin called for the “international recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, an end to Ukraine’s NATO membership bid and a halt to weapons shipments there,” The Associated Press reported.
“We are on the precipice of a dark and dangerous era,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a statement on Tuesday, in which she condemned Russia’s recent actions, which she said were “the beginning of the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Biden will give an update on Russia and Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon, which will be followed by a briefing from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Patrick Tucker contributed to this report.
This article was updated with comment from the State Department at 2:40 p.m. on Feb. 23.