First, the EU's foreign policy chief suggested that the US and UK have been "dramatizing" the Ukraine situation - and won't be pulling their diplomats' families amid reports of a recent buildup of Russian forces at the Ukrainian border.
BREAKING (AFP) — The EU is *not* following the US in withdrawing its diplomats' families from Ukraine, top European diplomat Josep Borrell says, adding there is no need to "dramatize" the situation while diplomatic talks with Russia continue.— Election Wizard 🇺🇸 (@ElectionWiz) January 24, 2022
Now, a 'source close to President Volodymyr Zelensky' is saying the US State Department's decision to authorize the voluntary departure of US government employees from Kyiv, and the mandatory withdrawal of the family members of US embassy personnel, is a massive overreaction, BuzzFeed reports.
Yes, we know.
Former defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk, for example, wrote on Monday that "127k Russian servicemen along border, in occupied territories of eastern Ukraine and Crimea," adding "This figure has not actually increased since April. This number of troops is not enough for a full-scale offensive."
The Zelensky confidant reportedly echoed this sentiment - saying that the Ukrainian president "does not think there’s any remotely imminent threat to Kyiv," adding that "“The fact that the US was the first one to announce" the voluntary departures and mandatory withdrawals - "is extremely disappointing and quite frankly these Americans are safer in Kyiv than they are in Los Angeles ... or any other crime-ridden city in the US."
The source close to Zelensky said the president’s office viewed the US move as “utterly ridiculous” and symbolic of what it views as “US inconsistency.” -BuzzFeed
"On the one hand, [Washington tells Ukraine] how we should democratize. We stand with you. It's your right to determine to join the West. We will stand with you against Russian aggression," the source reportedly said, 'mimicking messages of support from the US to Ukraine in the past.'
"Then Russia turns up the temperature and they’re the first to leave."
White House spox Jen Psaki addressed this later in the day - telling a reporter who asked if Ukraine would be "pretty much on their own," that "There is not an intention or a plan for any military evacuation."
Reporter: “If Americans are still in Ukraine and things start happening with Russia, are they pretty much on their own?”— American Wire News (@americanwire_) January 24, 2022
Psaki: “There is not an intention or a plan for any military evacuation.” pic.twitter.com/qnWTGQtCbE
Zelensky, meanwhile, is trying to keep things calm - telling Ukrainians last week in a televised address of the Russian buildup: "What’s new? Isn't this the reality for 8 years? Didn’t the invasion start in 2014? Did the threat of a large-scale war appear only now? These risks existed…they haven't become bigger. The excitement around them has grown."
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also says it thinks the US jumped the gun.
"While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety & security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution," tweeted spox Oleh Nikolenko. "
We have taken note of @StateDept’s decision re departure of family members of @USEmbassyKyiv staff. While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety & security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution.— Oleg Nikolenko (@OlegNikolenko_) January 24, 2022
"There is a lot of misinformation, manipulation, and fakes in the Ukrainian and international media to spread panic among Ukrainians and foreigners, scare business, undermine the economic and financial stability of our country. … It is important to soberly assess risks and remain calm," he told Interfax-Ukraine.
Another Ukrainian government official told BuzzFeed News that the US move risked causing confusion in Ukraine and could lead some people here to wonder whether their government is keeping information from them or downplaying the Russian threat.
The State Department said its decision was made “out of an abundance of caution due to continued Russian efforts to destabilize the country and undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine” and that the Ukrainian government had been consulted about the step. A senior State Department official said there had been no new intelligence gathered in the past 24 hours that prompted the move. -BuzzFeed
The US isn't alone in chickening out of Kiev, as the UK's Foreign Office announced a similar move right after the Biden State Department's announcement.
"Some Embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kyiv in response to growing threat from Russia," reads a Monday announcement. "The British Embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work."