Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said the State Department is tracking U.S. Embassy personnel in Kyiv “very, very closely” as concerns grow regarding a potential Russian invasion.
Asked by moderator Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if the State Department has approved a reported request by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine to send non-essential personnel home, Blinken said, “This is something that we look at every single day.”
He said any decrease in personnel will be done “based on security needs.”
“I have no higher responsibility than the safety and well-being of the folks who work for the State Department and who are under my care, in a sense. So we’re tracking this very, very closely. We’re looking at it on really a daily basis,” Blinken said.
“And if we need to make a determination that we should draw down some of the folks at the embassy, we’ll do that based on the security need,” he added.
The State Department announced later on Sunday that it has ordered family members of government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, while also allowing non-essential staffers to depart voluntarily.
Pressed by Todd on if he feels that Kyiv appears to be safe in at least the near term, Blinken said, “This is something, again, we’re tracking intensely hour by hour and certainly day by day.”
Blinken’s comments come as the U.S. and European allies are becoming increasingly concerned that Russia is preparing to launch a military offensive against Ukraine. More than 100,000 Russian troops are amassed on the Ukrainian border, but Moscow has maintained that it is not planning an incursion.
The State Department has issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for Ukraine, pointing to COVID-19 and “increased threats from Russia.”
The department said Americans “should be aware of reports that Russia is planning for significant military action against Ukraine. U.S. citizens are also reminded the security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price announced in a statement on Tuesday that Blinken, during a trip to Kyiv that week, was scheduled to “meet with the employees and families of the U.S. Embassy to communicate the Department’s efforts to plan for contingencies, should Russia choose to escalate further.”
Multiple sources familiar with the matter, however, told CNN that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv has already asked that the State Department allow all nonessential staff and their families to depart.
CNN reported on Saturday, citing a source close to the Ukrainian government, that the U.S. has told Kyiv it is “likely to start evacuations as early as next week,” beginning with families of diplomats. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reportedly communicated with Blinken about the situation, arguing that such a move would be an “overreaction.”
Asked about the reported authorization request on Sunday, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill in a statement, “We have nothing to announce at this time.”
“If there is a decision to change our posture with respect to American diplomats and their families, American citizens should not anticipate that there will be U.S. government-sponsored evacuations,” the spokesman said, noting that commercial flights are currently available for departures.
“We conduct rigorous contingency planning, as we always do, in the event the security situation deteriorates,” the spokesperson added.
Updated: 7:42 p.m.