Ottawa is relocating its embassy from Kyiv and is expected to move military trainers out of the country after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Saturday that he was ordering 160 U.S. troops to leave Ukraine in anticipation of a Russian invasion.
A senior Canadian official confirmed that Ottawa has been readying contingency plans to move about 260 soldier-trainers out of Ukraine, likely to Poland or Latvia where Canada has a contingent of troops.
The removal of Western military trainers is part of a co-ordinated plan, led by the United States, according to the official. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly also confirmed Saturday that Canada is preparing to evacuate its embassy staff from Kyiv ahead of a feared Russian invasion. A small number of diplomats will remain in the Kyiv embassy for the time being.
“Given the continued deterioration of the security situation, we will be moving our operations to a temporary office in Lviv and temporarily suspending operations at our embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine,” Ms. Joly said in a statement.
About half the embassy staff have already been moved to Lviv, Ukraine, near its far western border with Poland. The remaining diplomats will be moved on Monday, according to two sources. The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not allowed to discuss the matter.
“We will resume operations at the embassy in Kyiv as soon as the security situation in Ukraine allows us to ensure the adequate delivery of services and guarantee the security of our staff,” Ms. Joly said.
The Foreign Minister also appealed to all Canadians in Ukraine to leave the country immediately and to avoid any travel to the country.
“I urge all Canadians in Ukraine to make the necessary arrangements to leave the country now,” she said in a statement.
The United States announced Saturday that virtually all American staff at the Kyiv embassy will be required to leave in anticipation of a Russian invasion. American diplomats will also be stationed in Lviv.
“As of Sunday, February 13, 2022, the Department of State will suspend consular services at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. The embassy will maintain a small consular service in Lviv, Ukraine,” the department said in an e-mail to U.S. nationals in the country.
Tensions have been mounting for weeks during a Russian military buildup near its neighbour’s borders that has fuelled fears that Russia could attack, and on Friday Washington said an invasion could happen any time. Russia denies such plans.
U.S. President Joe Biden, who hosted a virtual meeting of leaders of the G7 and nearby European countries on Friday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, spoke by telephone on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has stationed more than 130,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and war ships in the Black Sea.
In the phone call, the White House said Mr. Biden warned the Russian leader that the U.S. and its allies would respond “decisively and impose swift and severe costs,” if Russian troops move into Ukraine.
According to a readout of the hour-long call, Mr. Biden told Mr. Putin that an invasion would “produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing.” The U.S. remains committed to diplomacy, but was “equally prepared for other scenarios,” according to the White House.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and he reaffirmed the determination of Canada and Western allies to impose punishing economic sanctions on Moscow.
“Prime Minister Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s steadfast support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and emphasized that any further military incursion into Ukraine would have serious consequences, including co-ordinated sanctions,” according to a statement issued by his office.
Russia, which has accused Western nations of spreading lies, said on Saturday it had decided to “optimize” its diplomatic staff numbers in Ukraine, fearing “provocations” by Kyiv or another party.
Moscow did not say whether that meant a reduction in staff numbers but said the embassy and consulates in Ukraine continued to perform their key functions.
The United States and United Kingdom, Japan and Australia urged their nationals in Ukraine on Friday to immediately get out of the country, something Canada did on Monday.
The Canadian government sent an e-mail advisory to Canadians who are registered with Global Affairs, saying that consular services could become severely limited and that Canadians should leave “while commercial means are available.”
“Russian military action in Ukraine could disrupt transportation routes and services throughout the country,” the advisory said. “Flights could be disrupted or cancelled on short notice, resulting in delayed departure. They could also become scarce, making it difficult for you to leave the country.”
In late January, Canada ordered family members of diplomatic staff stationed in Ukraine to leave the country, a day after the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia announced similar steps.
Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Council, wrote to Mr. Trudeau Friday, urging Canada to immediately send defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine. Canada extended its soldier-training mission last month for three years but did not offer lethal weapons.
“The provision of weapons will allow the Ukrainian people to defend themselves against a further Russian invasion,” he wrote. “Canada must stand with the Ukrainian people in their time of need.”
On Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the West is concerned that Russia is “actively looking for excuses” to invade Ukraine.
With a report from Reuters.
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