The Foreign Office has issued new guidance advising British citizens in Ukraine to leave now while commercial means are still available, amid growing fears of an invasion by Russia.
On Thursday, Biden urged all American citizens to leave, saying “things could get crazy very quickly.”
The US president also announced contingency military plans to airlift Americans who had fled Ukraine to Poland, in a bid to avert the kind of evacuation fiasco that happened in Kabul last week. last summer.
British sources said the UK was not preparing an emergency airlift as there were many commercial flights operating daily and the land border with Poland was open. It is believed that the number of British citizens in Ukraine is a few thousand. Many have strong ties there and are unlikely to leave.
The Foreign Office said in a statement: ‘The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority, which is why we have updated our travel advice. We urge UK nationals in Ukraine to leave now by commercial means as long as they remain available.
He added that he urged “Britons who choose to stay in Ukraine [to] constantly monitor their departure plans and ensure that their travel documents are up to date”. He also warned: ‘British nationals should not expect consular support or evacuation assistance in the event of a Russian military incursion.’
The UK is likely to reduce the size of its embassy staff for the second time. It already advises British citizens against all travel to two Russian-backed regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, in the east of the country.
It comes as UK government sources said the Foreign Office was preparing to launch a crisis team to deal with escalating tensions in Ukraine.
Keen to avoid a repeat of the chaotic response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, FCDO officials are reportedly revising their plans on how to respond if war breaks out in Eastern Europe. Several sources said that the FCDO was preparing to launch a gold/silver/bronze structure that could be ready in a few days to deal with major incidents.
The chain of command is employed in crisis situations, such as the evacuation from Kabul and repatriations at the start of the Covid pandemic, and would mean that officials are assigned strategic, tactical and operational roles.
The FCDO indicated that it was not in crisis mode and that the gold/silver/bronze structure had not yet been put in place. A spokesperson said: “The emerging situation in and around Ukraine is a top priority for the FCDO and, as everyone would expect, we have robust contingency plans in place to respond. to any development.”
On Friday, Boris Johnson told a group of Western countries and NATO in a virtual meeting that “he fears for the security of Europe in the current circumstances”. The Prime Minister said that “the allies must continue their efforts to strengthen and support NATO’s eastern borders”.
British officials insisted the government was not acting on specific new intelligence suggesting a Russian invasion was imminent, or because the United States had acted so decisively.
Officials said UK travel advice had been constantly reviewed and issued independently of any other country. But the UK government has said ongoing Russian military exercises in Belarus, coupled with Russian naval maneuvers in the Black Sea, potentially represent the riskiest moment since the crisis began.
The UK, like other European powers, has come under conflicting pressure since the government in Kiev indicated it wanted Western politicians to dampen the sense of impending conflict because it hurt Ukraine’s economy. Germany and France have been less willing to predict an imminent Russian invasion, despite receiving the same intelligence as the UK and US.
The UK stressed that many diplomatic avenues to avoid conflict were still open, despite tensions during a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Thursday .
On Thursday, diplomatic talks in Berlin involving Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, aimed at promoting some degree of autonomy for eastern provinces backing Russia in Ukraine, broke down without an agreement after eight hours. The four countries are expected to hold further talks next month.
In addition, documents are still being exchanged between the United States, NATO and Russia on Moscow’s broader demand for a change in the European security architecture.