U.S. Diplomats Will Start Returning to Ukraine
Russia’s aggression continues, but “Ukraine is succeeding,” said the secretary of State.
American diplomats will be returning to Ukraine starting this week after they were relocated due to Russia’s invasion.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine over the weekend, making them the highest-ranking officials to visit the country since the start of the war in late February. On Monday the secretaries gave a briefing, during which one reporter asked for a timing update on reopening the embassy in Kyiv and not just diplomats returning to Lviv where certain U.S. personnel were moved from Kyiv before they went to Poland.
“In terms of the embassy, we will have American diplomats back in Ukraine starting [this] week,” said Blinken. “They’ll then start the process of looking at how we actually reopen the embassy itself in Kyiv. I think that will take place over a couple of weeks, would be my expectation. We’re doing it deliberately, we’re doing it carefully, we’re doing it with the security of our personnel foremost in mind, but we’re doing it.”
In his opening remarks he said, “Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding.” While officials don’t know how the rest of the war will play out, Ukraine will be around for much longer than Russian President Vladimir Putin is, Blinken said.
“U.S. diplomats will start with short trips into Lviv, Ukraine, followed by a more permanent presence, including in Kyiv, as conditions allow,” a State Department spokesperson told Government Executive on background. “We are constantly reassessing and evaluating the security situation, and we look forward to resuming embassy operations in Ukraine to facilitate our support to the government and people of Ukraine as they bravely defend their country.”
For security reasons, the spokesperson could not comment on the team’s specific movements.
Additionally, “All in-person consular services in Ukraine remain suspended until further notice,” said the spokesperson, noting that they have continued to assist American citizens in Ukraine remotely.
"The ordered departure for family members and non-emergency U.S. direct-hire employees remains in effect," said the spokesperson.
“We are pleased that the administration is making plans to reopen our embassy in Kyiv and to restore our official presence in Ukraine,” Amb. Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association, told Government Executive. “Our Foreign Service stands ready to return to Kyiv and to raise our flag there in support of free and democratic Ukraine and its people.”
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.
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. Lastly, on February 21, U.S. embassy staff in Ukraine were moved out of the country. The American Foreign Service Association worked to provide financial assistance for embassy employees and their families who were relocated from Ukraine as well as Belarus.
Also on Monday, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Bridget Brink, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who is currently serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic, to be the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
Rubin said, “We welcome the president's plans to nominate a superbly qualified senior career foreign service officer to head our embassy in Kyiv and hope for a speedy Senate confirmation.”
This article has been updated with additional comment from the State Department at 5:20 p.m.