Ukraine and EU hit out at UK and US's diplomatic withdrawal amid Russia invasion threat

·4-min read
Volodymyr Zelensky and Joe Biden - GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP
Volodymyr Zelensky and Joe Biden - GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP

Ukraine has attacked the UK and US over their embassy pullouts, as President Volodymyr Zelensky praised EU diplomats for remaining to do their jobs amid mounting fears of a Russian invasion.

Both Kyiv and the EU on Monday said withdrawing diplomats from embassies in the country in preparation for a potential conflict was premature, casting doubts over how imminent any attack could be.

The complaint came as Britain and America started evacuating non-essential staff and their families from Ukraine in a clear sign they are braced for Russian aggression.

But there were clear splits between Nato allies on the issue, with the European Union and a number of its members refusing to follow suit in withdrawing diplomats.

Mr Zelensky, Ukraine's president, praised Brussels for its solidarity during his country's standoff with Russia, which has amassed some 100,000 troops along their shared border.

"I am grateful to you, Mr President of the European Council, and to the leaders of the EU countries, whose diplomats remain in our state and support us, doing their job," Mr Zelensky told Charles Michel, the European Council's president, in a telephone conversation.

We consider such a step by the American side premature and a display of excessive caution," Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement.

Josep Borrell, the EU's top foreign diplomat, accused the UK and US of "dramatising" the situation while negotiations with Russia continued.

"You have to stay calm doing what you have to do, and avoid a nervous breakdown," he said after talks with his US counterpart

“We are not going to do the same thing, because we do not know any specific reasons,” Mr Borrell told reporters earlier in the day.

France and Germany were both said to be "puzzled by US's and UK's alarmism" as both countries vowed to keep their embassies open.

"We see the same number of trucks, tanks, and troops. We have observed the same movements. But we cannot deduce from all this that an offensive is imminent," an Elysee source said.

In Germany, the foreign ministry ordered all of its staffers to continue working in the Ukrainian capital with only family members allowed to leave the country.

The Dutch embassy in Kyiv said it saw "no reason" to start withdrawing its staff like the UK and US.

Speaking after meeting Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general in Brussels, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: "Our embassy is operating and doing all the work it needs to do, but it is important that we prepare for any eventuality and there are very worrying signs about what could happen."

She insisted the UK was at the "forefront" of providing support, including defensive weapons and financial support, to Ukraine.

There was no sign of panic outside the US and UK embassies in Kyiv on Monday, though both had TV crews and cameras gathered outside.

"Due to the growing threat from Russia, the FCDO has taken the decision to temporarily withdraw some Embassy staff and their dependents from Kyiv," the UK foreign office said in an updated statement on Ukraine on its website.

The embassy is based a stone's throw away from St Michael's, a monastery that served as a refuge and hospital for demonstrators during the 2014 revolution.

According to Western intelligence, there are some 100,000 Russian troops and weaponry, including tanks, artillery and missiles, amassed on its border with Ukraine. Moscow insists its forces are not preparing to invade.

Nato has responded by sending warships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe, while the UK, US and EU are also drawing up lists of potential sanctions that could be triggered at the first sign of any Russian aggression.

Mr Stoltenberg said the alliance would “continued to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the alliance”.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the bloc repeated its warning that it would impose “severe costs” on Russia in the event of any attack.

Sanctions being considered include cutting Russia out of the Swift international payment network, but a number of European nations fear the move could also decimate a number of their businesses operating in the country.

Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s foreign minister, said the EU’s response would be “much more severe” than when Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

“Putin should know the price would be very, very high. They will be totally isolated and will have a harsh reaction from all of us."

Gabrielius Landsbergis, his Lithuanian counterpart, said “real war is a likely possibility”, adding: "We really need to be true to our words when we say that the sanctions will be unbearable.

"They have to be unbearable – that's the only deterrent. If they are bearable then it's not a deterrent."

In a separate show of support, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, announced €1.2 billion in new financial aid for Ukraine.

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