The United States on Monday evacuated State Department personnel and embassy operations from Ukraine to Poland, as fears continue to grow of a Moscow-led invasion, and shortly after Russia ordered troops into Ukraine’s separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk for so-called “peacekeeping” operations.
Citing “security reasons,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that department personnel in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv would be spending the night in Poland.
“Our personnel will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services,” said Blinken. “They will continue to support the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government, coordinating on diplomatic efforts.”
The U.S. commitment to Ukraine remained “unwavering,” he said.
“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,” Blinken added.
The decision to temporarily relocate staff comes just days after U.S. embassy personnel were relocated from Kyiv to Lviv, due to the “dramatic acceleration” in the number of Russian military troops near its border with Ukraine.
The Epoch Times has contacted the Biden administration for comment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced that he would recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, two Kremlin-backed enclaves that have accused Ukrainian armed forces of shelling and flaring tensions—claims that Ukraine has unequivocally denied.
The United States and Ukrainian officials have been warning they expect Moscow may fabricate “pretexts” to justify an invasion of Ukraine.
Putin signed a decree issued by the Kremlin on Monday authorizing Russian military troops into the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, saying they will “maintain peace.” Russian special operations forces have been reported in the Donbas on numerous occasions since the Crimean crisis in 2014.
“It is the Russian position that there are not Russian forces present in this part of Donbas,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters, responding to the move on Monday. “The reality, as we pointed out on a number of occasions over these past years, has been quite different.
The official added, “There have been Russian forces present in these areas throughout and so we’re going to be looking very closely at what they do over the coming hours and days and our response will be measured according, again, to their actions.”
Blinken in his statement on Monday also urged U.S. citizens to depart Ukraine “immediately.”
“The security situation in Ukraine continues to be unpredictable throughout the country and may deteriorate with little notice,” he said.
He said there is a strong likelihood that any Russian military operations would “severely restrict commercial air travel.”
“Russian troops have continued to move closer to the border in what looks like plans for an invasion at any moment,” Blinken warned, citing the escalating violence and reports of shelling in the Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk regions in recent days.
“U.S. citizens who choose to remain in these areas despite our advice to depart Ukraine immediately should remain vigilant and alert to their surroundings. In the event of an attack, U.S. citizens should seek shelter in a hardened structure and monitor major news outlets for guidance on when it is safe to move,” he added.