The State Department has authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. embassy employees in Ukraine while ordering their family members to leave the country amid possible Russian aggression.
Speaking to reporters in a phone call on Sunday night, a state department official announced that the Ukraine travel advisory currently stands at Level 4 — Do Not Travel — and that U.S. citizens within the country have been advised to seek a commercial flight home. In the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration said it will not be able to safely evacuate U.S. citizens.
“These decisions were made out of an abundance of caution due to continued Russian efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine,” the official said. “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and this includes our U.S. Government personnel and their dependents, and the security of our facilities overseas.”
The official noted that the state department had previously placed Ukraine at a Level 4 travel advisory due to the coronavirus.
“As President Biden has said, military action by Russia could come at any time,” the official noted. “The United States Government will not be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens in such a contingency, so U.S. citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options should they choose to leave the country.”
The official did not definitively state that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent and only emphasized that these orders were implemented “out of an abundance of caution.”
“These are prudent precautions taken for the sake of the safety of U.S. citizens and government personnel, and they in no way undermine our support for or our commitment to Ukraine,” the official said. “The United States commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering.”
When pressed on how many U.S. citizens or personnel could be in Ukraine, the official said that an official number could not be given at this time.
“Do you have any idea how many Americans are registered under the STEP program in Ukraine?” reporter Matt Lee asked. “I know that you do, and so I want to stop you from saying, ‘oh, well, it changes all the time.’ How many are registered right now?”
“U.S. citizens aren’t required to register with us, and so it’s not a number that we are able to share because we don’t have a solid number, and it’s not helpful to share estimated numbers with you,” the official responded. “So unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to give you a solid number.”
The order comes as Russia has reportedly amassed over 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border while Vladimir Putin has given no indication as to whether or not he will invade the country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinkenon Sunday that Russia will face “massive consequences” if it were to invade Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of Stateon Sunday that there will be “massive consequences” for Russia if its military forces invade Ukraine.
“Russia will make its decisions based on President [Vladimir] Putin’s calculus of what’s in their interest,” Blinken said. “We are working very hard to affect that calculus, both in terms of offering a diplomatic path forward that could enhance collective security for all of us and equally a path of defense and deterrence.”
On Sunday, the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group was headed for the Mediterranean with a 5,000-strong crew that will be taking part in NATO exercises.