Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Austria may evacuate embassy staff from Ukraine

Austria has evacuation plans for embassy staff in Kiev but a decision to implement them will only be made if necessary and depends on developments in Ukraine, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters in Brussels on Monday before an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting. “Of course, we have plans for evacuating the embassies in Kiev, but so far we have not started this because it is very important for us right now, in this phase, to have a maximum presence there. If the situation becomes dangerous and risks emerge, something we are monitoring closely, appropriate steps will be taken,” Schallenberg said. (https://tass.com/world/1392429) Schallenberg also said that the EU is considering the possibility of imposing sanctions against Russia in several stages, depending on how the situation develops.

Newsline: UK begins withdrawing staff from its embassy in Ukraine

The UK has started withdrawing diplomats and their families from Ukraine due to fears that Russia could invade. Half of diplomatic staff and their families stationed at the UK’s outpost in Kiev will leave the country due to the growing risk of a Russian attack. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10434565/UK-begins-withdrawing-staff-embassy-Ukraine.html) It comes after the US ordered families of American diplomats out of the country for the same reason, and offered non-essential embassy staff flights home. But the EU said that it has no plans to withdraw its own diplomatic staff, with top diplomat Josep Borrell saying there is no need to ‘dramatise’ the situation. Amid rising tensions between Russia and the West, Moscow announced new live-fire sea drills that will take place off the coast of Ireland in February. They are part of wider drills involving up to 140 ships across four seas including Pacific and Atlantic. The Irish government revealed Sunday that it has been warned of drills that will take place within its ‘exclusive economic zone’ but outside of its territorial waters – around 150 miles off its southwest coast. It said the drills are ‘not welcome’.

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Newsline: U.S. embassy warns citizens in UAE to maintain security awareness

The U.S. Embassy and Consulate in the United Arab Emirates advised its citizens in the country to “maintain a high level of security awareness” in a statement on Monday, following reports of a possible missile attack and accompanying missile defence activity over Abu Dhabi earlier in the morning. (https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-citizens-uae-warned-maintain-security-awareness-embassy-website-2022-01-24/) Such statements are rare, for the UAE is largely viewed as one of the safest places in the Middle East, but the U.S. Embassy issued a similar security alert last week when Abu Dhabi was targeted by the Houthi militia.

Newsline: New US Diplomatic Complex in Northern Thailand Seen Aimed at China and Myanmar

No one doubts that the American community in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, which consists mostly of NGO workers, missionaries and retirees, needs consular services. But could that be the only reason why a massive, new United States (US) Consulate General is under construction at a cost of US$300 million? Due to be opened in 2023, the buildings of the diplomatic mission will sprawl over no less than 6.6 acres, or 26,709 square meters, of land in a business park on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. In a colorful, online brochure, the US Consul General in Chiang Mai describes the project as “a concrete sign of our long-term commitment to the people of northern Thailand and the future of our partnership” and the text goes on to state that the US Consulate General is “dedicated to serving the local American community or those wishing to travel to the United States”. While all of that may be accurate, Michael Vatikiotis, a Singapore-based British analyst, argues in an op-ed piece for Nikkei Asia on January 7 that Beijing sees the construction of a such a huge diplomatic complex only 500 kilometers from the Chinese border and even closer to Myanmar and Laos “as an attempt to reinforce existing US intelligence gathering capacity in northern Thailand”. (https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/guest-column/new-us-diplomatic-complex-in-thailand-aimed-at-china-and-myanmar.html) Covert US activity of that kind would fit into the broader picture of geostrategic rivalries in the region. The rise of China as an economic and political superpower in Asia has been met by the formation of new alliances in the region. The first was the Quad, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which was set up in 2007 and brings the US together with Japan, India and Australia. Then, on September 15 last year, the formation of AUKUS, or the Australia-United Kingdom-United States pact, was announced with the specific purpose of coordinating activities in the spheres of “cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and additional underwater capabilities.” Under the terms of the pact, the US and the UK will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Newsline: Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister invited to Moscow

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly has an “open invitation” to visit Moscow to meet with Russian officials, an offer first extended in December, says Ambassador to Canada Oleg Stepanov. In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Stepanov said the Russian government would welcome the meeting. “Your excellency Joly had the chance to chat with [Foreign] Minister [Sergei] Lavrov on the margins of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting last December in Stockholm and expressed her interest to come to Moscow for consultations at some point and my minister extended the official invitation,” he said. “Canada is a really important and vocal player right now in NATO camp, in the situation around Ukraine.” (https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/joly-has-open-invitation-to-visit-with-russian-officials-in-moscow-ambassador-1.5750102) Russia has amassed 100,000 troops along different regions of the Ukraine border prompting concerns about a full-scale invasion there. Russia denies it intends to invade. Stepanov added that while Russia is still waiting for an answer from the Canadian government about the proposed visit, an “open invitation” stands. “When the Canadian government is ready, they will be welcomed. We will be glad to host Minister Joly in Russia or they can meet in any other spot during multilateral events,” he said. Joly’s office confirmed to CTV News the receipt of the invitation and that they haven’t yet responded.

Newsline: State Department issues ‘do not travel’ warning for Ukraine as embassy staff is told to leave

The U.S. State Department warned in a travel advisory that security conditions in Ukraine can “deteriorate with little notice.” “On January 23, 2022, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees and ordered the departure of eligible family members from Embassy Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action. U.S. citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options,” the advisory reads. “There are reports Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine. The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice,” the advisory states. (https://www.foxnews.com/world/state-department-orders-evacuation-of-diplomats-families-from-ukraine-embassy) The announcement comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office announced on Saturday that it had information suggesting that the Russian government is plotting to install a pro-Kremlin leader in Kyiv.

Newsline: U.K. Foreign Office accuses Moscow of planning to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine

The U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office disclosed it had information suggesting the Russian plan was in the works. “We have information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine,” a spokesperson for the British agency said. (https://www.foxnews.com/world/russias-purported-plan-to-install-pro-kremlin-leadership-in-ukraine-deeply-concerning-white-house-says) Former Ukrainian Member of Parliament Yevhen Murayev was being considered a potential candidate, the spokesperson added. Murayev heads Nashi, a small pro-Russian political party that currently has no representation in Ukraine’s parliament, The Associated Press reported. The U.K. government said its claim was based on an intelligence assessment, but it provided no evidence to support it, according to the AP.

Newsline: Top U.S. diplomat dodges question on sending U.S. troops to Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday dodged a question about whether there was “any scenario” in which U.S. troops would be deployed to defend Ukraine, saying that U.S. and European allies are looking at “practical and important” responses to Russian aggression in the region. “Do you see any scenario in which more U.S. service members become involved here?” CNN’s Dana Bash asked Blinken on “State of the Union.” Blinken responded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is preparing “massive consequences” for Russia if a “single additional Russian force” enters Ukraine. “One of the things that we’ve been very clear about,” he said, “besides the massive economic financial consequences that would befall Russia if it further commits aggression against Ukraine, is the ongoing continued buildup of defense capacity in Ukraine and equally continuing to build up NATO’s defensive capacities, including on the so-called Eastern flank, the countries near Russia. “The alliance is looking at very practical and important measures that it would take in the event of further Russian aggression,” he said. (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/blinken-dodges-question-on-sending-u-s-troops-to-ukraine-says-nato-looking-at-practical-response-to-russia) The U.S. and NATO remain at a diplomatic impasse with Russia as the Kremlin has yet to make any moves in dismantling its 100,000-strong troop buildup along Ukraine’s border.

Newsline: Top US diplomat warns of “massive consequences” for Russia over Ukraine invasion

As tensions along Russia’s border with Ukraine continue to escalate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Sunday there will be “massive consequences” for Russia if its military forces invade Ukraine. “Russia will make its decisions based on President [Vladimir] Putin’s calculus of what’s in their interest,” Blinken said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “We are working very hard to affect that calculus, both in terms of offering a diplomatic path forward that could enhance collective security for all of us and equally a path of defense and deterrence, that makes very clear that if there’s aggression, there’ll be massive consequences. So the choice is his.” (https://news.yahoo.com/blinken-warns-massive-consequences-russia-160229735.html) Despite diplomatic negotiations led by the U.S., more than 100,000 Russian troops have moved to Russia’s border with Ukraine, while satellite imagery shows tanks, artillery and support equipment also beginning to amass. With tensions rising and warnings of a potential invasion have grown, experts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will wait until February, when the ground freezes, to attack Ukraine. Russian forces are also moving into Belarus, providing troops with another angle to advance into Ukraine.