After spending weeks falsely accusing Russia of “slowly evacuating” its diplomatic personnel from Ukraine, the US and several of its NATO allies themselves began to remove Embassy staff and members of their families from the Eastern European nation. The evacuations come amid the continued escalation of tensions between Moscow and NATO over Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally responsible for the evacuation of the families of US diplomats in Ukraine, and their removal was taken out of an “abundance of caution,” Kristina Kvien, acting US ambassador to Ukraine, has said.
“The decision was made because right now Vladimir Putin and Russia have built up such military might on the border that they could take an action any day now. And with that in mind, we felt that out of an abundance of caution, we had to make sure that our Embassy families were safe. So that was the basis for a decision,” the envoy told ABC News.
In a rare note of disagreement with their Western patrons, Ukrainian officials criticized the State Department’s decision to start evacuating on Sunday, saying it was “premature” and “excessively cautious.” This week, a number of Ukrainian officials, including the country’s defense minister and the head of the National Security and Defense Council, have also dismissed Western claims about an “imminent” Russian invasion, and even criticized foreign media for blowing up war fears.
Kvien claimed that the presence of an “estimated 100,000” Russian troops near Ukraine “means that Russia could do anything at any moment,” and compared that Russian deployment to a “gun to the head of Ukraine.”
“We don’t think that Ukraine should have to live with a loaded gun to its head,” she said. Kvien assured that Ukrainian officials continue to take the Russian “threat” seriously, notwithstanding the increasingly public disagreements between Kiev and Washington on the true scale of the danger.
Last week, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell assured that European diplomats would not be leaving Ukraine en masse amid the Russia-NATO tensions over Ukraine. The American, British, Canadian, Australian and Germany embassies have announced the withdrawal of diplomats and/or members of their families, with the Netherlands saying Dutch diplomats can leave if they wish to do so.
Western diplomats began evacuating Ukraine about a week after US media claimed that Russian diplomats were “slowly evacuating” the country. Both Russian and Ukrainian officials have dismissed the reports, with the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry indicating that it was not aware of any plans by Russia to evacuate Embassy staff, and saying that it would not remove its diplomatic workers from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg, or Novosibirsk at this stage.
In a related development, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov has downplayed rumors about that Moscow was evacuating its embassy in Washington, saying that the Russian diplomatic offices in Washington, New York and Houston were working as normal and that claims to the contrary were an “utter lie.”
A shipment of part of the $200 million in fresh US military aid to Ukraine arrived in Kiev on Tuesday, carrying over 270 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 800+ SMAW-D shoulder-fired bunker buster missiles, 170,000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition and bomb disposal equipment. Kvien called the delivery a demonstration of America’s “absolute, rock-solid support” for Kiev.
Kvien has served as acting ambassador to Ukraine since 2019, with the Biden administration taking flak from Democrats after mysteriously failing to find a replacement for her over one year into Joe Biden’s term in office.
The evacuation of Western diplomatic officials comes amid the continued escalation of tensions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine, with the US and its allies spending months claiming that Russia is preparing to “invade” its Western neighbor. Moscow has dismissed the allegations, and accused Washington of playing up the threat of the Russian bogeyman as a pretext to beef up NATO’s military footprint in Eastern Europe and justify attempts to incorporate Ukraine into the Western bloc.
Moscow delivered a pair of security proposals to the US and NATO last month in a bid to cool tensions, calling for dramatic reductions in troop, missile, warship and aircraft deployments in areas where they may be considered a threat to either side, and demanding firm, treaty-bound guarantees from the West that it will not try to incorporate Ukraine or any other former Soviet republics into NATO.