The US and UK are withdrawing diplomats’ families from Ukraine, but the EU has said dependants will stay put for now, amid heightened fears of a Russian invasion.
The state department told the dependants of staffers at the US embassy in Kyiv that they must leave the country. It also said that non-essential embassy staff could leave Ukraine at government expense.
US officials stressed the Kyiv embassy will remain open and that Sunday’s announcement does not constitute an evacuation. The move had been under consideration for some time and does not reflect an easing of US support for Ukraine, the officials said.
“Military action by Russia could come at any time,” the US embassy said. Officials “will not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in such a contingency, so US citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly,” it added.
On Monday the Foreign Office said some British staff and dependants were being withdrawn, but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc did not plan to follow suit for now.
“We are not going to do the same thing because we don’t know any specific reasons,” Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a meeting in Brussels with his EU counterparts that US secretary of state Antony Blinken is expected to join by video link.
Ahead of the meeting, a senior European official said the EU would be ready to launch sanctions “within days” if Russian troops launch an invasion.
Rising tensions about Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border were not eased during talks on Friday between Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.
On Sunday a senior Ukraine government adviser said the country was reacting “seriously” to UK allegations that Moscow has plans to invade the country and install a puppet government and that Kyiv was resisting Russian efforts to destabilise its government and economy.
The Foreign Office claims that Moscow may topple the government and install Yevhen Murayev, a former MP who controls a pro-Russia television station, were met with shock and some scepticism in Ukrainian political and media circles.
The Foreign Office made the allegations as the UK pledged to take a more aggressive posture over Russia’s buildup of more than 100,000 troops and weaponry on the border with Ukraine.
Murayev himself denied that he was involved in any plot, telling the Observer he had been banned from entering Russia and was in a conflict with a close ally of Vladimir Putin. “It isn’t very logical,” he said.
The Foreign Office has not provided any evidence to support the allegations, which came as Boris Johnson’s domestic political troubles deepened.
British sources emphasised on Sunday afternoon that the coup plot warning on Saturday followed a UK intelligence assessment, a different formulation from earlier briefings that had suggested it was based on “US-led intelligence”.
The UK allegation came days after the US alleged that Russian intelligence was recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to take over the government in Kyiv and cooperate with a Russian occupying force.
The accusations have increased tensions as discussions rage about how best to deter Vladimir Putin from launching a new invasion of Ukraine. Russian tanks and artillery, military vehicles and fighter aircraft continued to arrive within striking distance of Ukraine’s borders this weekend, and Russian troops have been sighted less than 20 miles from the border.
Moscow has announced sweeping naval exercises that will put its ships in close proximity with Nato forces while potentially positioning landing craft for an amphibious assault on Ukraine’s southern coast.
British deputy prime minister Dominic Raab told Sky News on Sunday: “There’ll be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade but also install a puppet regime.”
On Sunday, the US state department said: “The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice. Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv.”
The department’s travel advisory, which had warned against traveling to Ukraine because of Covid-19 as well as the tensions over Russia, was changed Sunday to carry a stronger warning.
“Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and Covid-19. Exercise increased caution in Ukraine due to crime and civil unrest. Some areas have increased risk,” the department advised.
The travel advisory for Russia was also changed: “Do not travel to Russia due to ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine, the potential for harassment against US citizens, the embassy’s limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, Covid-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.”
The state department would not say how many Americans it believes are currently in Ukraine. US citizens are not required to register with embassies when they arrive or plan to stay abroad for extended periods.