As fears of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine appeared imminent, the Biden administration worked to get Americans out of the country.
On Saturday, the State Department ordered most of its embassy staff in Kyiv to leave, according to NBC.
The Defense Department, meanwhile, ordered a contingent of 160 members of the Florida National Guard who were on a training mission to Ukraine to leave, according to The Washington Post.
The Florida Guard members will be posted elsewhere in Europe, the Defense Department said.
The evacuation came prior to a scheduled call between President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Although U.S. officials have said an invasion could happen at any moment, Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade, despite ringing Ukraine with 130,000 troops.
A statement released Saturday by the State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The statement said they discussed “acute and shared concerns that Russia may be considering launching further military aggression against Ukraine in the coming days.”
‘The Secretary made clear that a diplomatic path to resolving the crisis remained open, but it would require Moscow to de-escalate and engage in good-faith discussions. He reiterated that should Moscow pursue the path of aggression and further invade Ukraine, it would result in a resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response,” the statement said.
The State Department order evacuating diplomats cited “the continued threat of Russian military action.”
NBC said a source it called a “senior State Department official” said it was “increasingly likely” that the “situation is headed towards some kind of active conflict. And that is why we are reducing our staff to a bare minimum.”
On Friday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan urged Americans to leave Ukraine within 24 to 48 hours.
“We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border. As we’ve said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it,” Sullivan said.
“We are firmly convinced that the Russians, should they decide to move forward with an invasion, are looking hard at the creation of a false-flag operation, something that they generate and try to blame on the Ukrainians as a trigger for military action. And we are calling that out publicly because we do believe that if Russia chooses to do that, they should be held to account.”
“What we can say is that there is a credible prospect that a Russian military action would take place even before the end of the Olympics,” Sullivan said.
On Friday, the Tass news agency said a leader in the pro-Russian Donetsk region of Ukraine said 130 mass graves of “victims of Ukrainian aggression” had been found.
Russia is also shutting down its Kyiv embassy due to “possible provocations by the Kyiv regime and third countries,” according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
She said the move was triggered by the flight from Kyiv by other countries.
“We conclude that our American and British colleagues apparently know about some military actions being prepared in Ukraine,” she said, the Post reported.
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