Republican lawmakers call for reopening US embassy in Ukrainian capital

A woman walks past the United States Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Some Republican lawmakers are calling on the United States to resume its diplomatic presence in Ukraine and reopen its embassy in Kyiv now that security forces invading Russians have withdrawn from the surroundings of the city. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers are calling on the United States to resume its diplomatic presence in Ukraine and reopen its embassy in the capital Kyiv now that invading Russian forces have withdrawn from surrounding areas of the city.

Several countries have recently announced plans to reopen embassies in Kyiv, including Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Austria and Turkey. The embassies of Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania have already opened their doors, as has the diplomatic office of the European Union. The United States must quickly follow suit, Republicans said.

“It’s time,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, an Army veteran. “We have many Americans [non-governmental organizations] operating in Ukraine, thousands of Americans who never left, and US press operations in the country. It’s time to come back – and show Ukraine and the world our enduring commitment to their freedom.

The U.S. Embassy moved its consular operations to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the Polish border, days before the Russian invasion and closed its Kyiv office entirely on 28 february. Diplomats and staff have been working from Poland ever since.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined Monday to set a timeline for a return. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said Sunday that US officials were “working” on when to send diplomats back to Kyiv. The State Department said it was constantly assessing security in Kyiv and had no specifics on when the US embassy might reopen.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that resuming operations at the embassy would require consultation with the Department of Defense. The Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, a brigade-sized organization of the Marine Corps, provides security for U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. About 2,500 Marines are stationed at more than 150 embassies and consulates, according to the State Department.

At least part of the security detail that worked in Kyiv is likely protecting US government personnel and sensitive information in Poland, Kirby said. The State Department has not confirmed the number of Marines assigned to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

“In the meantime, we continue to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government and its leaders at all levels and engage in daily conversations with our Ukrainian counterparts,” a State Department spokesperson said Thursday.

Ernst criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for being “far too cautious” about restoring a diplomatic presence in Ukraine and said a US diplomat she met in Poland last month “told me in tears that she wanted to come back”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged governments to fire their embassy staff, saying the return of foreign missions would signal to Russia “that kyiv is ours”. Russian forces withdrew from the north of the country earlier this month after failing to capture the capital.

“We need your support, even at the level of symbols and diplomatic gestures,” Zelenskyy said last week in a video address. “Please come back, everyone who is brave, please come back to our capital and keep working.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., praised foreign governments for heeding that call and said the United States must now sustain its commitment to Ukraine and diplomacy through action on the ground.

“We need to safely reopen the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv as quickly as possible,” Wittman said. “This will send a clear message of our support for Ukraine, underscore the country’s unchallenged sovereignty, and support and facilitate critical diplomatic channels between the U.S. and Ukrainian governments at various levels.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., has warned that a diplomatic return to Kyiv would have to be carefully controlled for security reasons. Embassy staff in Poland continued to do their “important work” even outside the country, she said.

“While having a diplomatic presence on the ground in Ukraine is valuable, the State Department will need to determine when our diplomats can safely complete their mission in Kyiv,” she said.

High-level politicians, as well as envoys, have flocked to the city in recent days.

The Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian presidents traveled by train to Kyiv to meet Zelensky on Wednesday. Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the nearby town of Bucha, where Russians are accused of committing mass atrocities. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson walked the streets of Kyiv with Zelenskyy in a surprise visit on Saturday.

Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., described Johnson’s visit as a “powerful show of support for the people of Ukraine.” President Joe Biden is not expected to make a similar trip, White House officials said, although there would be talks of sending another senior official to the Ukrainian capital.

On Thursday, Rep. Victoria Spartz, the first Ukrainian-born congresswoman, and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., became the first U.S. officials to visit kyiv since the war began. Spartz on Tuesday asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to consider redeploying diplomats to Lviv, a city largely spared Russian bombardment that has served as a hub for those displaced by the war.

“As the largest provider of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, it is high time for the United States to follow our European allies in kind,” Spartz, R-Ind., wrote in a letter to Blinken. .

Christi C. Elwood