The big US bugout from Ukraine is getting underway.
The US Embassy in Kyiv has requested that the State Department authorize the departure of all nonessential staff and their families, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
A State Department spokesperson said they have "nothing to announce at this time," adding, "We conduct rigorous contingency planning, as we always do, in the event the security situation deteriorates." A spokesperson for the embassy declined to confirm and referred CNN to the State Department in Washington.
A source close to the Ukrainian government told CNN that the US has informed Ukraine that it is "likely to start evacuations as early as next week" of the families of diplomats from the embassy in Kyiv. The source said President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the matter and told him that if the United States took such a dramatic step, it would be an "overreaction." CNN has asked the Ukrainian government for comment.
A State Department official said the department would not comment on private discussions, adding that decisions about overseas staff are based on a single criterion: the safety and security of Americans.
The embassy's request marks an escalation from CNN's report last month that the US was working on contingency planning to evacuate Americans from Ukraine, as Russia has continued to mass troops near the border and spark fears of a renewed invasion. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry's latest intelligence assessment, shared with CNN this week, assessed that Russia has now deployed more than 127,000 troops in the region.
The State Department has already issued the highest-level travel advisory for Ukraine, telling Americans not to travel to the country and to be aware of reports that Russia is planning for significant military action against Ukraine.
Yes, the Biden administration is definitely going to take the side of caution after Afghanistan, and I don't blame them at all. Things could be extremely bad in Ukraine by the end of the month, if not sooner.
With 100,000 Russian guns pointed at their heads, Ukrainians seem to take a stoical pride in not seeming rattled. They appear ready for what could be a savage war. Their main worry is that the United States and its allies will get so nervous they will yield to Russian pressure.
Driving through Maidan Square in a light snow on Friday afternoon, with traffic snarled and the lights of the city blazing, you could almost think this was normal life, on the eve of what could be a Russian invasion. Some people with money are buying dollars and property abroad. But the restaurants are full, and Ukrainians appeared to get the jitters only when President Volodymyr Zelensky told them this past week not to panic.
Over several days of intense conversation here, I heard the same message of resistance. Russian President Vladimir Putin might imagine that Ukrainians share his almost mystical conviction that Russia and Ukraine are the same country, but if so, he’s wildly mistaken. Putin’s eight years of war against Ukraine, beginning with his seizure of Crimea in 2014, have made him nothing but enemies here. Polls say that even a large majority of Russian-speaking Ukrainians oppose him.
“Don’t trust Putin. Don’t fear Putin,” said former president Petro Poroshenko on Friday during a conversation with a group organized by the German Marshall Fund. (I’m a trustee of GMF but came here as a journalist, along with Sylvie Kauffmann of the French newspaper Le Monde and a half-dozen others, including two German parliamentarians and analysts from NATO and the European Union.)
It was partly bravado, but a defiant Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the national security and defense council, told our group: “Since 2014, we have been in a state of war with Russia. There are no people other than us who will defend us. Even if we don’t receive weapons [from the West], we will strangle them with our bare hands.”
We'll see where all this going, but my guess is that Putin might not yet invade. It depends on what he really wants and what Biden is willing to do.