The U.S. State Department is ordering family members of U.S. diplomats in Ukraine to evacuate the country in the coming days and authorizing non-emergency personnel to leave as well, in yet another signal of just how dire the situation between Ukraine and Russia has become in recent days.
“Military action by Russia could come at any time,” a senior State Department official said on a call with reporters Sunday night. “The United States government will not be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens in such a contingency.”
As Russia has built up hundreds of thousands of troops and equipment along the border of Ukraine in recent months, concerns have mounted that Russia may be prepared to launch an all-out assault in Ukraine at a moment’s notice.
The State Department’s decision is yet another indication of just how concerning the situation in Ukraine has become, as diplomatic efforts to thwart a Russian invasion of Ukraine have stalled, and another clear sign that the Biden administration anticipates Russia to carry out attacks—probably sooner rather than later.
The embassy will stay open for the time being, a State Department official said during the briefing, and most operations will continue as normal until further notice.
There are several different kinds of embassy evacuations, and each one indicates just a different level of seriousness on the ground.
“You have basically voluntary evacuation, which allows dependents and non-essential personnel to leave, and then you have ordered evacuation, where basically leadership says everybody except you, you, and you leave,” Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told The Daily Beast. “If you see that kind of drawdown beginning…that suggests to me the information is reaching a point where the U.S. government believes something is going to happen.”
The State Department also elevated its travel advisory to Ukraine, warning Americans on Sunday not to travel to Ukraine due to the increased threat of Russian military action.
“If Russia chooses further escalation… security conditions… are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice,” another senior State Department official said Sunday.
The travel warning from the State Department was elevated to a “do not travel” level last month, but that was due to concerns about COVID-19 and “increased threats from Russia.”
On Sunday night, Belarus’ U.S. Embassy released a security alert reminding U.S. citizens “to exercise increased awareness and vigilance regarding political and military tensions in the region,” including around the borders it shares with Ukraine and Russia.
The Biden administration has also in recent days begun weighing deploying thousands of troops to NATO countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to further thwart Russia, according to The New York Times.
The news comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has plans to install a pro-Russian regime in Kyiv, Ukraine, according to intelligence the British government shared with The Daily Beast on Saturday. Russian intelligence has identified former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev as its potential front runner to lead the takeover and has also identified other former Ukrainian politicians that could be a part of the plot, the British government assessed.
It was not clear if the news of the plot propelled forward the Biden administration’s decision to authorize departure of diplomats and evacuate diplomats’ family members, but the U.S. government is still on the watch for Putin to stage sabotage attacks against Russia’s own forces in order to claim aggression from Ukraine and justification for attacking Ukraine.
“We have been concerned and have been warning about exactly those kinds of tactics for weeks. Russia could try and might try in some way to topple and try to replace the Ukrainian government,” one of the senior State Department officials said.
One of the officials the Russian government has reportedly identified, Vladimir Sivkovich, a former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, was the subject of U.S. sanctions in recent days.