U.S. Weighs Pulling Diplomats’ Family Members Out of Ukraine
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is weighing whether to evacuate family members of diplomats stationed in Ukraine as Russia masses more than 100,000 troops on its borders, according to people familiar with the matter.
Under the plan, family members would be ordered to return home while non-essential employees would be able to leave voluntarily. An announcement may come within days, according to the people, who asked not to be identified before a decision is reached.
The ruble erased gains on the news, falling 0.1% against the dollar. Yields on most Russian local currency sovereign bonds rose on Friday.
The U.S. employs about 180 American citizens and 560 Ukrainians at its embassy in Kyiv, according to the embassy website. That doesn’t include family members, so the number of U.S. citizens living in embassy housing is probably much higher.
The Biden administration has been ramping up its warnings over a potential invasion by 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders even as negotiations between the U.S., Russia and Europe continue. A decision to evacuate wouldn’t mean the U.S. is certain that Russia will invade and simply reflects prudent preparations as tensions rise, one of the people said.
A White House official characterized the situation as part of normal contingency planning in case the security situation deteriorates, and the person emphasized that Ukraine already has the highest-level travel warning over the Covid-19 situation in the country.
A European Union diplomat said embassies of member nations have presumably made contingency plans, although no steps have yet been taken to send home family members from the EU delegation.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Russia has evacuated family members and some staff from its diplomatic missions in Ukraine.
U.S. consideration of an evacuation comes amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings that have so far failed to ease the crisis. At a meeting in Geneva on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands and meet again, but no breakthrough was reached.
Following the talks in Switzerland on Friday, Blinken told reporters “if Russia wants to begin to convince the world that it has no aggressive intent toward Ukraine, a very good place to start would be de-escalating.”
Lavrov dismissed Western “hysteria” over Ukraine and repeated that Moscow has no plans to attack its neighbor. He repeated charges that NATO is the aggressor in the crisis.
“What NATO is now doing toward Ukraine clearly shows that NATO sees Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence,” Lavrov said.
Russia is demanding binding security guarantees that would bar Ukraine from ever joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and require the alliance to roll back its forces to positions they held in 1997, before central and eastern European nations joined NATO. The U.S. and its NATO allies have rejected those demands.
The meeting capped days of intense diplomacy by Blinken, who visited his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv and held talks in Berlin with U.K., German and French allies before traveling to Geneva.
As talks drag out, Russia is continuing a military buildup, sending troops and armor to within a few miles of the Ukrainian border in neighboring Belarus for joint military drills that start Feb. 10. Two divisions of S-400 air-defense systems are also being dispatched to Belarus, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday, according to the Interfax news service.
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