Canada won’t be following the United States in evacuating families of diplomats in Ukraine and allowing non-essential staff to leave its Kyiv embassy at this stage and amid tensions with Russia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Jan. 24.
“We will make determinations based on safety on the ground, based on the concerns we have around a potential Russian invasion. We obviously continue to work very, very hard on a diplomatic track, on an international track, to try and get Russia to de-escalate,” Trudeau said in a virtual press conference on Jan. 24.
Trudeau said the government is “extremely concerned” about Russian aggression and the ongoing threat of invasion into Ukrain but that there were “many contingency plans in place,” to protect Canadian diplomats and their families for “whatever eventuality comes up.”
The United States announced on Jan. 23 it had ordered the departure of all families of its embassy staff and authorized voluntary departures for non-essential U.S. government employees.
Senior U.S. State Department officials told reporters that the decision was made out of an “abundance of caution due to continued Russian efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine.”
The officials would not say if the move was triggered by any specific recent development, only saying “military action by Russia could come at any time.”
When asked during the press conference if the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle played into Washington’s decision for the cautionary approach in Ukraine, the senior official said “this is very much a decision that is focused on the situation in Ukraine and what is best for Embassy Kyiv and American citizens in Ukraine.”
On Jan. 23, the State Department modified its travel advisory for Ukraine from “Do Not Travel due to COVID concerns” to “Do Not Travel due to the increased threat of Russian military action.” Canada’s travel advisory states to avoid non-essential travel due to Russian aggression and military build-up.
A separate senior official representing the Bureau of Consular Affairs said he recommends U.S. citizens should consider departing the country now.
The officials also announced the U.S. is providing $200 million worth of new weapons to Ukraine, including ammunition for its “frontline defenders,” with a first shipment arriving in Kyiv on Jan. 22.
Ukraine was not pleased with the U.S. decision to drawdown its diplomatic staff.
“While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety & security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution,” said Ukraine minister of foreign affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko on Twitter on Jan. 24.
The United Kingdom has reduced the staff of its Kyiv embassy by half, the BBC reported on Jan. 24, while the European Union says it would not follow that path for now.
Canada announced it will be providing a $120 million loan to Ukraine last week and Trudeau said the provision of military aid wasn’t off the table.
“We’re going to continue to be there to respond in ways that we can to to supporting Ukraine. This is something that matters deeply to us,” Trudeau said, mentioning the Ukraine situation would be discussed in cabinet meetings in the next few days.