London Follows Washington, Pulls Diplomats From Ukraine Despite Kyiv Criticism, as Germany Wavers on Russian Sanctions

A woman comes out the UK Embassy building in Kyiev on January 24, 2022. - Britain's foreign ministry said on January 24, 2022 it was withdrawing some staff and their relatives from its embassy in Ukraine in response to the "growing threat from Russia". (Photo by Sergei Supinsky / AFP) …
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom has begun evacuating some embassy staff and their dependents from Britain’s embassy in Kyiv amid what is claimed as the “growing threat” of an invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

The move to withdraw embassy staff is not believed to have come in response to a specific threat against being made against British diplomats, but rather as a precautionary move.

“Some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn Kyiv in response to the growing threat from Russia. The British Embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work,” the Foreign Office said in a statement per The Telegraph.

The move follows the American State Department authorising the voluntary withdrawal of embassy staff and the ordering of family members to leave Kyiv. The State Department has also issued a “do not travel” warning to American citizens and has told citizens within the country to leave the country on an “abundance of caution”.

Ukraine’s foreign affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko described the decision by the State Department as overly cautious, saying:  “While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety [and] security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one [and] an instance of excessive caution.”

On Saturday, Britain’s Foreign Office accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of a “plot” to “install a pro-Russian leader” in Kyiv. The UK identified five individuals allegedly working on behalf of Russia in Ukraine, claiming that some of the men identified had been in contact with Russian intelligence involved in the possible invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has denied the claims, and one of the men pointed to by Britain, former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev has warned that he may sue the Foreign Office for spreading “fake news” about him being installed as a pro-Moscow leader of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the European Union has announced that it will not be following the lead of the U.S. and UK in removing embassy staff. The head of foreign affairs for the bloc, Josep Borrell said on Monday: “We are not going to do the same thing … we don’t have to dramatise, negotiations are going on.”

While U.S. President Joe Biden had promised to work more closely with European allies on foreign policy, there has been a stark divide between America and Germany on the issue of Ukraine.

In contrast to the United States, which has sent 80 tonnes of “lethal aid” to Ukraine, the recently installed German Chancellor, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz reportedly blocked Estonia from sending German-made military equipment to Kyiv. Scholz has also played down the idea of Germany imposing sanctions on Russia, calling for “prudence”.

“No one should harbour the illusion that there is any step that has no consequences for us,” the German chancellor said.

Germany, like others in the EU, has been facing an energy crunch, with Vladimir Putin allegedly holding back gas supplies over an ongoing dispute over the opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Former President Donald Trump frequently warned that if Europe continued its reliance on Russian gas, they would become “captives” of Putin.

Scholz also reportedly refused to have a face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss the Ukraine situation, however, Berlin has denied the rumours.

Foreign ministers of the European Union will hold a video conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday in order to align their so-far disjointed response to Russia amassing 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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