US orders families of American embassy staff to leave Ukraine

US State Department officials said the Kyiv embassy will remain open and that the announcement does not constitute an evacuation. Photograph: EPA

The United States State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy in Ukraine to leave the country amid heightened fears of a Russian invasion.

The department told the dependents 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.

The move came amid rising tensions about Russia’s military build-up on the Ukraine border that were not eased during talks on Friday between US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.

State Department officials stressed the Kyiv embassy will remain open and that the 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.

In a statement, the State Department noted recent reports that Russia was planning significant military action against Ukraine.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has accused Nato countries of escalating tensions around Ukraine with disinformation.

The State Department added: “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 European Union does not plan to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine at the moment, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

“We are not going to do the same thing because we don’t know any specific reasons. But Secretary Blinken will inform us,” Mr Borrell told reporters on Monday as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts that Mr Blinken is expected to join online.

“Negotiations are going on”, Mr Borrell said, adding he saw no reason to leave Ukraine “unless Secretary Blinken gives us an information that justifies a move”.

Meanwhile, the Irish Government has expressed concern about planned Russian Navy military exercises 240km off the south-west coast.

The artillery drills at the start of February will take place in international waters, but within Irish controlled airspace and the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

All civilian aircraft will be routed away from the area during the exercises.

In compliance with legal requirements, Russia has informed Ireland’s aviation authorities of the planned activities in advance.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) insisted there would be no impact to the safety of civil aircraft operations.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has raised the issue with Russian ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov.

Mr Coveney is due in Brussels on Monday for a scheduled meeting with other EU foreign ministers at which the ongoing tensions on the Russia/Ukraine border will be discussed.

The minister is due to raise his concerns about the Russian naval exercises at the meeting.

“In light of the current political and security environment in Europe, the Department of Foreign Affairs has raised a number of concerns with the Russian authorities in respect of these exercises. We will continue these discussions in the coming days,” Mr Coveney said.

He added that Ireland, along with several EU states, had updated its travel advice for Ukraine.

“We are recommending that Irish citizens avoid non-essential travel to the country at this time,” he said. – Agencies