WASHINGTON: U.S. State Department employees who had been moved from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, to the western city of Lviv will spend the night in Poland for security reasons, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, as the risk of a conflict in Ukraine escalated.
"Our personnel will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services," Blinken said in a statement.
"They will continue to support the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government, coordinating on diplomatic efforts," Blinken said, stressing that the move did not undermine U.S. support and commitment to Ukraine.
He repeated a call to Americans leave Ukraine immediately, saying the security situation in the country continued to be unpredictable and warned that it might deteriorate with "little notice".
"There is a strong likelihood that any Russian military operations would severely restrict commercial air travel. Russian troops have continued to move closer to the border in what looks like plans for an invasion at any moment," Blinken said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine after recognising them as independent on Monday, accelerating a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war.
A Reuters witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk after Putin issued a decree recognising the breakaway regions and told Russia's defence ministry to send in forces to "keep the peace".
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Costas Pitas in Los Angeles; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle) ((Costas.Pitas@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com and @Cpitas on Twitter))