WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department advised Americans on Monday to avoid travel to Ukraine because of “increased threats” from Russia amid its military buildup along the country’s border.
In its new travel advisory, the department said Americans should be “aware of reports that Russia is planning for significant military action against Ukraine” and that security could deteriorate in the country.
The State Department regularly issues travel advisories and had one in place for Ukraine already because of COVID-19. But this was unusual because of the direct warning about the massing of Russian troops along the Ukraine border, which has caused soaring tensions between Moscow and Washington in recent days.
Just this weekend, Russia sent a pair of nuclear-capable long-range bombers to patrol the skies over Belarus on Saturday, a mission intended to underline close defense ties between the two allies amid tensions with the West.
American citizens choosing to visit the country despite the warning “should be aware that Russian military action anywhere in Ukraine would severely impact the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services, including assistance to U.S. citizens in departing Ukraine,” it said.
U.S. intelligence officials say Russia has moved 70,000 troops and is preparing for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow denies it has any plans to attack, as it did in 2014 when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula, but says it wants guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO.
Over the weekend, the Russian Defense Ministry said the two Tu-22M3 strategic strike bombers practiced “performing joint tasks with the Belarusian air force and air defense.”
Su-30 fighter jets that Russia has supplied to Belarus escorted the bombers.
Saturday’s four-hour patrol marked Russia’s third such mission in Belarus since last month and took place amid Western concerns over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s border.
Moscow has denied harboring plans to invade Ukraine and pressed the United States for security guarantees that would exclude NATO expanding into Ukraine or deploying weapons there.
The US and its allies are almost certain to reject Moscow’s demands.
Some Ukrainian officials have voiced concern that Russia may use Belarus as a base for attacking their country from the north.