Russia evacuates embassy in Ukraine as crisis deepens

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontations after President Vladimir Putin was given permission to leave Russia. to use military force outside his country and that the West responded with sanctions.

Hopes for a diplomatic exit from a potentially devastating new war in Europe appeared nearly crushed as the United States and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line by crossing the Ukrainian border into areas separatists – some calling it an invasion.

Russia began withdrawing personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine, the state-run Tass news agency reported, a day after the Foreign Ministry announced an evacuation plan, citing threats. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Russian flag no longer flew above the embassy in Kiev, according to an Associated Press photographer. The police surrounded the building.

After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities also signaled growing concern on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry has advised against traveling to Russia and urged anyone to leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has called for a national state of emergency, subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it would be up to regional authorities to determine what measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, traffic restrictions and additional transport and document checks.

It was just the latest in a series of signs of escalating tensions. Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered severing all diplomatic relations with Moscow; Russia said it would evacuate staff from its embassy in Ukraine; dozens of nations further pushed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany has terminated a lucrative pipeline deal; the United States repositioned additional troops on NATO’s eastern flank on the border with Russia; and the top US diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the specter of massive losses, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

Even as the conflict took a dangerous new turn, leaders warned it could escalate further. Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to unleash the force of 150,000 soldiers massed on three sides of Ukraine, while US President Joe Biden has withheld even harsher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia, but said he would move forward if there were further attacks. .

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday called the European Union sanctions agreed the day before “a first step” and also said further steps could follow. Sanctions are essential because the West has ruled out attacking Russia militarily.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western leaders not to wait.

“We call on our partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now the pressure must intensify to stop Putin. Hit his economy and his cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

Responding defiantly to the measures already taken, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov retorted that “sanctions cannot solve anything” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is anyone in Washington who expects Russia to review its foreign policy under the threat of restrictions.”

In eastern Ukraine, where an eight-year conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence has also escalated again. A Ukrainian soldier was killed and six others injured after the rebel shelling, the Ukrainian army said. Separatist officials reported several explosions in their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.

Since last Friday, when the separatist leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions announced mass evacuations to Russia, more than 96,000 residents of the separatist areas have crossed the Russian border.

After weeks of escalating tensions, Putin took a series of steps this week that raised the stakes dramatically. First, he recognized the independence of these separatist regions. Then he said the recognition extended even to large parts of the territories currently held by Ukrainian forces, including the main Sea of ​​Azov port, Mariupol.

Finally, he requested and obtained permission to use military force outside the country, thus formalizing a Russian military deployment in the rebel regions.

Yet Putin hinted there was a way out of the crisis, setting three conditions: He called on Kiev to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed to Ukraine in 2014, to renounce its candidacy for NATO and partially demilitarize.

But it was unclear whether there was actually room for diplomacy since the first two demands had previously been dismissed by Ukraine and the West as non-starters.

The Russian leader remained vague when asked if he had sent Russian troops to Ukraine and how far they could go, and separatist leader in Donetsk Denis Pushilin said on Wednesday that there were currently no Russian troops in the region.

Pushilin’s remarks contradict those of Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist Donetsk local council, who told reporters on Tuesday that Russian troops had already entered. Late Monday, convoys of armored vehicles were seen rolling through separatist-held territory. It was not immediately clear if they were Russian.

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Litvinova reported from Moscow. Jim Heintz in Kyiv; Angela Charlton in Paris; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Ellen Knickmeyer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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