WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is evacuating nearly all staff from its embassy in Kyiv, as Western intelligence officials warn that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent.
A senior State Department official said Saturday that a very limited number of employees will remain to keep communications open with the government, but all consular operations will be suspended.
The official, citing security concerns, would not say how many staff would remain, but as of December, about 180 Americans were working at the embassy. Some of them had already left and the majority will return to Washington, the official said.
The official said the step was taken because of the potential for major Russian attacks on Kyiv in the event of an invasion and repeated the warning that private US citizens should leave immediately.
“It’s not just time to leave Ukraine, it’s high time to leave Ukraine,” the official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security information.
The State Department said it would maintain a small consular presence in Lviv, in far western Ukraine, near the border with Poland, a NATO ally, to handle emergencies.
The State Department had previously ordered the families of US embassy staff in Kyiv to leave. But he had left it up to non-essential staff if he wanted to leave.
The Pentagon has ordered the temporary repositioning of the 160 members of the Florida National Guard who have been deployed to Ukraine since late November, press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Saturday.
These troops, which advise the Ukrainian forces, will reposition themselves elsewhere in Europe.
Kirby said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “made this decision out of caution – with the safety and security of our personnel above all”.
“This repositioning does not mean a change in our resolve to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but will provide flexibility to reassure allies and deter aggression,” Kirby said.
The Pentagon announced on Friday that it was sending 3,000 additional combat troops to Poland to join the 1,700 already congregating there in a show of US commitment to NATO allies worried about the Russia invades Ukraine.
The additional troops, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are expected to be in Poland early next week, according to a defense official, who provided the information in accordance with ground rules set by the Pentagon. These are the remnants of an infantry brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Their mission will be to train and deter but not to engage in combat in Ukraine.
The announcement came shortly after Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, issued a public warning to all US citizens in Ukraine to leave the country as soon as possible. Sullivan said Russian President Vladimir Putin could issue the order to launch an invasion of Ukraine any day.
In addition to US troops deployed in Poland, about 1,000 US troops based in Germany are moving to Romania on a similar mission of comfort with a NATO ally. In addition, 300 soldiers from a headquarters unit of the 18th Airborne Corps arrived in Germany, commanded by Lieutenant General Michael E. Kurilla.
US troops must train with host nation forces, but must not enter Ukraine for any purpose.
The United States already has about 80,000 troops across Europe in permanent stations and in rotating deployments.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor and Aamer Medhani contributed to this report.