The United States ordered the families of its diplomats in Ukraine to leave the country, as fears of a Russian invasion mount ahead of a meeting of Western countries on Monday seeking to coordinate their response and eventual sanctions against Moscow.
The foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) will seek to align positions on Monday with the United States in a videoconference meeting in which the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will participate.
Blinken will report on his Friday conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva, when the two parties agreed to continue working to lower tensions although they did not reach an agreement to stop the escalation in the crisis.
Western countries accuse Russia of deploying tanks, artillery and some 100,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine to prepare an attack.
Russia denies any warlike intention, but conditions the de-escalation to treaties that guarantee the non-expansion of NATO, in particular to Ukraine, as well as the withdrawal of the Atlantic Alliance from Eastern Europe, something that Westerners consider unacceptable.
The United States and the EU have threatened Moscow with “massive consequences” if it invades Ukraine, although reaching a consensus on tough measures among the 27 members of the European bloc is a complex task.
European officials have held consultations with EU member states about possible sanctions should Vladimir Putin decide to invade the former Soviet republic.
Foreign ministers will not approve sanction options on Monday, but a senior European official insisted they could be imposed within “days” if necessary.
“The reaction will be quick, the reaction will be extremely clear,” Indian.
“We hope there is no attack. But if this is the case, we are ready to respond through massive economic and financial sanctions,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.
Ministers will reaffirm this position on Monday, according to the text of the statement seen by AFP.
A reduction in gas and oil purchases, which represent 43% and 20% of European consumption of these products respectively, and which sustain a large part of the Russian budget, is an option considered, a European source who requested anonymity told AFP.
– British prosecution –
The Ukrainian government vowed on Sunday to continue fighting pro-Russian individuals and entities seeking to destabilize Ukraine, after Britain accused Moscow of wanting to install a favorable leader in Kiev.
“Our state will continue its policy of dismantling any oligarchic and political structure that may be working to destabilize Ukraine or help the invaders.”said to the AFP Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Saturday that the UK has reliable information about moves by Moscow to “install a pro-Russian leader in Kiev.”
According to Russia, the British accusation is “absurd”.
– American diplomacy –
Amid rising tensions, the US government has ordered the families of US diplomats in Kiev to leave Ukraine “due to the persistent threat of a Russian military operation,” the State Department announced on Sunday.
Local staff can leave the embassy if they wish and US citizens residing in Ukraine “should now consider” leaving the country on commercial flights or other means of transportation, the official statement added.
In addition, Washington discouraged its citizens from traveling to Russia “due to the tension on the border with Ukraine.”
US citizens are “strongly advised” to avoid travel to Russia, the State Department said in a statement.
The decision is explained by “the possibility of harassment of US citizens,” in particular by the Russian police, and “an arbitrary application of local laws,” he said.
(With information from AFP)