White House confirms Russia preparing to evacuate diplomats from Ukraine

19 January 2022, 06:44 PM

The Russian government is preparing to evacuate the family members of diplomatic staff from the Russian Embassy in Ukraine, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Jan. 18.

“We have information that indicates the Russian government was preparing to evacuate their family members from the Russian Embassy in Ukraine in late December and early January,” she said.

“We certainly would refer you to them for more specifics about what their decision is. But we don’t have an … assessment on why, and the meaning.”

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On Jan. 17, the New York Times reported that Russia had begun emptying out its embassies in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Lviv, stating that 18 people, mostly the children and wives of Russian diplomats, boarded buses and embarked on a 15-hour drive home to Moscow on Jan. 5.

About 30 more followed in the next few days, the NYT reported citing a senior Ukrainian security official.

Ukrainian and U.S. officials offered differing reasons for the thinning out of the embassy - part propaganda, part preparation for a looming conflict, or part feint.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the Russian embassy in Kyiv is operating as usual.

At the same time, Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, told the Novoye Vremya weekly news magazine in a comment that no information had been received yet from the Russian side about the evacuation of its diplomats from Ukraine.

Russia has been massing troops at the Russian-Ukrainian border since late October.

As of early December, about 100,000 Russian soldiers have been deployed near the Russian-Ukrainian border and in the temporarily occupied territories in the Donbas, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told the Ukrainian parliament on Dec. 3.

International media have speculated that Russia may invade Ukraine in early 2022, in an operation that could involve up to 175,000 Russian soldiers.

Both U.S. and European officials have expressed concern over the situation. U.S. President Joe Biden in December declared that the White House was working out “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”

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