May 28, 2023

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The Biden administration is resisting growing calls from U.S. lawmakers, former diplomats and others to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, a move advocates say would send a signal of Western strength and unity to Russia as its war on Ukraine nears the two-month mark.

Multiple U.S. diplomats privately say they want an American return to the Ukrainian capital, an area from which Russian forces have withdrawn. More than a dozen European countries, including Slovenia, Italy and Spain, as well as the European Union, already have reopened their Kyiv missions or intend to do so. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised the governments that have returned, saying they are sending “a clear signal to the aggressor.”

But aides to President Joe Biden are still debating exactly when the United States should reopen its embassy. On the one hand, the Biden team wants U.S. diplomats to take more risks — something Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out last year; on the other, there are legitimate concerns about their safety. It also reflects a degree of caution lingering from the deadly 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which led to multiple Republican investigations.https://c4295b46701d2073576f0f4b05094616.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

So far, the decision has been to hold off, a U.S. official familiar with the debate said. “It seems every agency has its share of skeptics,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive conversations. “Half the [White House] and half of State want to do it. Other halves oppose and say too soon.”

A senior State Department official said everyone wants to reopen the embassy butcamps have different standards as to when it’s safe enough to do so. A State Department spokesperson said there was no time table to announce, but “our team is actively planning, and we very much look forward to resuming embassy operations in Ukraine.” A second State Department official who asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak on the matter said that there were no advance preparations underway, however, to immediately reopen the Kyiv facility.

The discussion is ongoing as Russia has pulled its troops away from the Kyiv area and is concentrating its attacks on Ukraine’s east, giving the capital some room to breathe. But Moscow can be unpredictable. On Friday, Russian missiles struck a factory on the outskirts of Kyiv that it claimed had produced the Ukrainian missiles that hit Russia’s flagship cruiser, the Moskva, and caused it to sink in the Black Sea.

On Monday, it launched missiles at Lviv, a city in Ukraine’s west where U.S. diplomats had, in an earlier phase, temporarily relocated from Kyiv. At least seven people died.

Nonetheless, several U.S. lawmakers from both parties have called on Biden to send American diplomats back to the Ukrainian capital.

“U.S. embassies have operated in similar environments before, and a renewed U.S. presence in Kyiv is vital to efforts to assist the Ukrainians,” Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. Risch also urged Biden to officially nominate an ambassador to Ukraine, a post that has sat empty for years due to a variety of reasons.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) argued that the embassy should reopen because Kyiv is “the moral capital of the world and the locus of the most important American foreign policy enterprise in years.”

And William Taylor, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said a number of American diplomats assigned to Ukraine have told him they are eager to return to Kyiv. It’s not just symbolism; U.S. diplomats believe they can do their jobs better in the capital, where they have more access to Ukrainians of all backgrounds, including government officials.

“They listen to, get messages from, hear what the Ukrainians are thinking,” Taylor said, noting that such exchanges go both ways. “You can’t do that from any place other than Kyiv.”

That’s an argument echoed by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who pointed out that the Biden team “has not even suggested it will return its diplomats to anywhere in the country.”

“U.S. officials returning to Ukraine would improve our ability to coordinate with security forces and various contributing nations so we can collectively sustain Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield,” Inhofe said in a statement.

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