Canada closes embassy in Ukraine and relocates diplomatic staff over war fears

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OTTAWA — Canada has closed its embassy in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and moved its diplomatic staff to a temporary office in the west of the country, fearing an invasion by Russia is imminent.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced the embassy closure on Saturday, shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to reassure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Canada stands with his country. .

“Given the continued deterioration of the security situation caused by the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, (the government is establishing) a temporary office in Lviv and temporarily suspending operations at our embassy in Kyiv,” Joly said.

Lviv is home to a Ukrainian military base that served as the hub for Canada’s 200-soldier training mission in the former Soviet country. It was not immediately clear whether the temporary diplomatic office was located on this base.

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The temporary office will continue to provide services to Canadians in Ukraine by appointment only, Joly said, although she warned that Ottawa’s ability to offer consular assistance to those in difficulty “may become increasingly difficult.” limited”.

In a sign that US officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario, the United States has also announced its intention to evacuate most of its embassy staff in the Ukrainian capital, and Britain has joined in d other European countries to urge its citizens to leave Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a summary of Trudeau’s conversation with Zelenskyy provided by the Prime Minister’s Office said the Canadian leader had again pledged to impose economic sanctions on Russia in response to an invasion of Ukraine.

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Russia has mobilized 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine and is demanding a series of concessions from the NATO military alliance, of which Canada is a member.

While Russia denied wanting a war, diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West failed to resolve the impasse and NATO leaders began to warn of a conflict in Ukraine.

The White House said on Saturday that US President Joe Biden had told Russian Vladimir Putin that the West was committed to a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, but was also “prepared for other scenarios as well”.

Biden also said the United States and its allies would respond “decisively and impose swift and severe costs” if the Kremlin attacked its neighbor, according to the White House.

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He offered no suggestion that the one-hour call lessened the threat of impending war in Europe.

The two presidents spoke a day after Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that US intelligence shows a Russian invasion could begin within days and before the Olympics are over. Beijing winter on February 20.

The conversation between Biden and Putin came at a critical time in what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

While the United States and its allies have no plans to send troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, an invasion and the resulting sanctions could reverberate far beyond the former Soviet republic, affecting energy supply, world markets and the balance of power in Europe.

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Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s top foreign policy aide, said that while tensions had been escalating for months, in recent days “the situation has simply been taken to absurdity”.

He said Biden had mentioned possible sanctions that could be imposed on Russia, but “that issue was not the focus of a long enough conversation with the Russian leader.”

Before speaking to Biden, Putin had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the crisis. A summary of the Kremlin appeal suggested little progress had been made in easing tensions.

Putin complained in the call that the US and NATO failed to respond satisfactorily to Russian demands to ban Ukraine from joining the military alliance and for NATO to withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe.

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The timing of possible Russian military action remained a key question.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart on Saturday that “further Russian aggression would be met with a resolute, massive and united transatlantic response.”

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy tried to project calm as he observed military drills on Saturday near Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

“We are not afraid, we are without panic, everything is under control,” he said.

But the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lt. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov issued a more provocative joint statement.

“We are ready to meet the enemy, and not with flowers, but with Stingers, Javelins and NLAWs” – anti-tank and air weapons, they said. “Welcome to Hell!”

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US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, also held telephone talks on Saturday.

In addition to the 100,000 ground troops that US officials say Russia has mustered along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, the Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to sustain a war.

Russia demands that the West keep former Soviet countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising.

Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed more than 14,000 people.

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