Ukraine tensions heighten as US, Russia pull out some diplomatic staff

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As tensions in Ukraine heighten over the possible Russian invasion, Moscow and the US announced on Saturday that they ordered some of their embassy staff out of Kyiv. “Fearing possible provocations from the Kyiv regime or other countries we have indeed decided to optimise staffing at Russian missions in Ukraine,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a press release, responding to a media question on the subject.

Aside from some embassy staff, sources said Washington was also withdrawing its staff at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe from Ukraine.

The announcement came as the US officials say the State Department plans to announce early Saturday that all American staff at the Kyiv embassy will be required to leave the country ahead of a feared Russian invasion. The department had earlier ordered families of US embassy staffers in Kyiv to leave. But it had left it to the discretion of nonessential personnel if they wanted to depart. The new move comes as Washington has ratcheted up its warnings about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. The officials said a limited number of US diplomats may be relocated to Ukraine’s far west, near the border with Poland, a NATO ally, so the US could retain a diplomatic presence in the country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Washington of waging a “propaganda campaign” about possible Russian aggression, the Russian foreign ministry said on Saturday. Russia has built up military forces near Ukraine, fuelling fears it may invade. Moscow denies such plans. In a readout of Saturday’s phone call with Blinken, Lavrov also said that Washington and Brussels had ignored key Russian security demands.

Separately, two diplomatic sources told Reuters that the United States was pulling out its staff at the OSCE in Ukraine with immediate effect. The OSCE did not respond to a request for comment. –Agencies

The OSCE conducts operations in Ukraine including a civilian monitoring mission in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed separatist republics in the country’s east where a war that erupted in 2014 has killed more than 14,000 people. -Agenciesv

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