27 Russian diplomats left the United States on Wednesday after a prior State Department order had set a deadline of Jan.30 for their departure, at a moment the showdown at the Russia-Ukraine border continues, and amid deteriorating US-Russia relations.
Calling it a "very bitter event at our embassy," Russian Ambassador Antoly Antonov said in a social media video of the diplomats departing on a bus to the airport: "Our comrades were forced, at the request of the Americans, to leave earlier than the period for which they came here."
🔻— Russian Embassy in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) January 26, 2022
💬#Antonov: Today @RusEmbUSA held a very sad event. At the @StateDept request our collegues were forced to leave earlier than their tenure expired.
The US had framed the prior order to leave as being due to the expiring visas of over 50 diplomats, however, Russia has called the refusal to renew the visas effectively an expulsion.
"Back in September, we were invited to the State Department and given a list of 55 people," Amb. Antonov described, according to an English translation. And the embassy said in a statement that the diplomats were "forced to leave earlier than their tenure expired."
Russia was first notified in late November of last year that the diplomats must prepare to exit US soil. Amb. Antonov said at the time in an interview that "our diplomats are being expelled" and detailed that 27 diplomats and their families are due to be expelled from American soil.
This had followed two dozen Russian diplomats being told to leave in September, with the US refusing to renew their visas as is the normative practice. When that prior event happened, Antonov complained, "It has gotten to the point where the U.S. authorities cancel valid visas of spouses and children of our staff with no reasons provided. The widespread delays in renewing expired visas are also aimed at squeezing Russian diplomatic workers out of the country."
The State Department at the same time has downplayed that the moves have been retaliatory, instead framing it as but the result of an expired, unrenewed visa issue.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine all US citizens in the country are being advised to make exit plans and leave...
“Our message now for any Americans in Ukraine is to strongly consider leaving,” Sec. of State Antony Blinken says amid threat of Russian invasion, says U.S. embassy in Kyiv will remain open. https://t.co/RlSrq2ZzXc pic.twitter.com/YHlcodNdAz— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 26, 2022
Ukraine's government has protested the move, calling it "premature" - to which the State Dept responded as follows...
"These are prudent precautions that in no way undermine our support for, our commitment to Ukraine," a senior official said. The decision was made "based on this military buildup, based on how we see these developments," with the official calling it the "right moment."