US advises its citizens to leave Ukraine amid ‘escalated tension’

24 Jan 2022 | Tim Worledge

The US government has advised its citizens to leave Ukraine and instructed non-essential embassy personnel to depart, as it warned that Russian military action “could come at any time.”

The US State department released a transcript of a call held by senior department officials that provided more detail on the updated travel advisory for Ukraine, and confirmed that the country’s Charge d’Affaires, Kristen Kvien, remains in Ukraine.

In it, the US raised its travel advisory to 'level 4' – indicating a do not travel instruction – on the basis of “escalated tension”

The transcript also provided confirmation that the US has started providing “lethal defensive security assistance” and the first tranche of assistance arrived in Kyiv on January 22.

While US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is expected to meet again with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva for further talks, the developments over the weekend suggest the situation has deteriorated further.

Russia is conducting large-scale military exercises in Belarus, close to the border with Ukraine, and confirmed it is stepping up naval exercises in the Black Sea.

However, US officials stressed that the decision was “prudent” and reflected an “abundance of caution.”

“As to President Putin’s intentions, we don’t know if he has yet made up his mind to invade, but he is building the military capacity along Ukraine’s borders to have that option ready at any time,” the statement read.

The US State Department also issued a press release covering a meeting on Sunday between Blinken and Lavrov, with Lavrov urging “concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

In response, Blinken spoke of “a critical moment” and said the US was ready to discuss “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns that you’ve raised, as well as the deep concerns that many of us have about Russia’s actions.”

In the crosshairs of the mounting tension stands some of the most agriculturally-productive regions in the world, with Russia and Ukraine major exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower – among other agricultural products – with any conflict in the region likely to bring profound dislocation of trade.

In early morning trading, US wheat futures posted double digit gains of close to 2%, with all six active Kansas HRW wheat contracts passing through the $8/bu mark ($294/mt) while Chicago SRW opened at $8.01/bu – up over $0.15/bu, but had eased back slightly to dip to $7.99/bu.

The US State Department transcript also emphasised international agreement on consequences of military action in the region.

“Over the past weeks, you’ve seen us make intense and sustained efforts to pursue diplomacy.  But while we continue to pursue peace, we must be clear-eyed about the reality if Russia chooses escalation: it will face massive consequences,” a senior state official said.