US closes embassy in Kyiv and moves remaining diplomats west amid fears of Russian invasion

“I ordered these actions for one reason – the safety of our personnel – and we strongly urge all US citizens remaining in Ukraine to leave the country immediately,” Blinken said in a statement.

The move comes days after the United States ordered the vast majority of U.S. government employees to leave the country and announced that consular services at the U.S. Embassy would be suspended from Sunday amid fears of an imminent Russian invasion, even as US officials stressed they remained engaged. trying to find a diplomatic solution.

Although Moscow has said it is open to negotiation, State Department spokesman Ned Price noted Monday that “it is still unclear to us whether Russia is interested in pursuing a diplomatic path rather than to use force”.

Price said the decision to move all of Kiev’s remaining diplomats to western Ukraine was made because the State Department felt it was “absolutely necessary” due to the “distinct possibility, may -be more real than ever, that Russia decides to take military action”. .”

“We base our assessment on what we see on the ground with our own eyes, namely a continued, unprovoked Russian buildup on Ukraine’s border and no accompanying evidence of de-escalation,” he said. said during a State Department briefing, noting that Lviv’s location “offers it a degree of protection that other places in Ukraine may not have.”

Price said there had been “a lot of meticulous planning to ‘move the embassy’ and as proof of that, for example, we didn’t have to destroy any valid passports”.

“We’ve taken careful precautions around sensitive documents, sensitive equipment, but we just can’t offer a lot of detail there,” he said.

A senior State Department official said on Saturday that US diplomats had cleared classified information in recent days in preparation for the embassy withdrawal.

Price noted that if Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, “there would be widespread human suffering.”

US officials have repeatedly called on US citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, warning that a Russian invasion could come anytime, including as early as this week.

“What we are trying to do publicly is make it clear to American citizens that they must leave Ukraine immediately, as there will be no military evacuation in the event of an invasion,” the adviser said. to National Security Jake Sullivan on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ” Sunday.

‘Intend to return’

Price said Ukrainian National Guard police will guard the US Embassy in Kyiv, adding, “We certainly intend to return to this embassy in Kyiv as soon as it is safe to do so.” The staff transferred to Lviv include the “core” diplomatic team, including charge d’affaires Kristina Kvien, and they “will remain engaged with the Ukrainian government to coordinate diplomatic efforts”, Price said.

Blinken spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Monday – their second conversation in days – and underscored “the commitment of the United States and its allies to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including its economic and financial stability“. The pair discussed macro-financial support, according to Kyiv, and the Biden administration is considering offering up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine amid concerns over a possible Russian invasion, said several sources familiar with the matter.

Russia surrounded Ukraine on three sides.  Here's where an invasion could be launched

The United States has also had conversations with Moscow in recent days. Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of President Joe Biden’s call with Putin.

“During our call, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the Russians were working on a response to the document we sent to Moscow more than two weeks ago, proposing concrete areas for discussion,” Blinken said on Saturday, adding that “it remains to be seen if they will follow through on this, but if they do, we will be ready to engage with our allies and partners.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen on Monday night that Putin was “ready to negotiate,” saying the Ukraine crisis was only part of Russia’s broader security concerns.

Earlier today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin he saw a “chance” for diplomatic dialogue with the West on Russia’s security issues, saying he recommended that these efforts continue.

As of Monday, the United States had yet to receive that response from Moscow, Price said, “and for that to bear fruit, it will also have to take place in the context of de-escalation, and that’s just not something we’ve seen so far.”

CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen contributed reporting.

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