(Update 1: Changes dateline, updates with official announcement of move of US embassy)
Washington, Feb 14 (EFE).- The United States said Monday it has begun the process of relocating its embassy in Ukraine, temporarily closing its diplomatic mission in Kiev and moving those operations to Lviv, a far-western city on the border with Poland.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that he ordered that move to guarantee the safety of its diplomatic personnel in that Eastern European country.
“We are in the process of temporarily relocating our embassy operations in Ukraine from our embassy in Kyiv to Lviv due to the dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces (on the border with Ukraine),” he said.
That decision comes two days after the US ordered non-essential embassy personnel to leave Ukraine and announced a suspension of consular services at that diplomatic mission.
The State Department ordered the destruction of computer workstations and networking equipment at the embassy as well as the dismantling of its telephone system, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing internal communications and US officials familiar with the matter.
Fifty-six embassy workers and the embassy’s classified materials arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington DC on Sunday, the paper said, citing those same internal communications.
In his statement, Blinken described the transfer of operations to Lviv as “prudent precautions” that “in no way undermine our support for or our commitment to Ukraine.”
“We look forward to returning our staff to the embassy (in Kiev) as soon as conditions permit,” he added.
The US’s top diplomat urged any remaining US citizens in Ukraine to “leave the country immediately,” sending that message three days after the White House – warning that a Russian attack could come at any time – told Americans to exit the country within 48 hours.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR’S VISIT TO UKRAINE
Elsewhere Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated his country’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as high-level diplomatic efforts to de-escalate soaring tensions around the Russian military buildup continued.
Scholz traveled to Kiev to meet with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, ahead of a scheduled trip to Moscow on Tuesday, where he will hold discussions with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is non-negotiable,” the German chancellor said during a joint press conference, adding that he expected Russia to demonstrate clear steps to de-escalate the situation in the region and threatened far-reaching consequences should it invade.
Zelenskyy, for his part, called for legal guarantees to protect Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion and said his country’s NATO aspirations would not be determined by Russia’s actions.
DEVELOPMENTS IN MOSCOW
Russia’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday told Putin that reaching an agreement with the US and NATO on key security guarantees demanded by Moscow, which include a halt to NATO expansion in the region, was still possible and that diplomatic routes out of the stand-off had not been exhausted.
The meeting, broadcast on Russian public television, saw Lavrov telling the Kremlin chief that Russia will continue to seek answers concerning security issues in Europe.
“We, both you and other Russian representatives, have repeatedly said that we warn about the inadmissibility of endless talk on issues that need to be settled today,” Lavrov told Putin.
“I don’t think our possibilities have been exhausted, but, naturally, they should not last endlessly. However, I would suggest we continue these efforts at this stage,” he said.