Some British embassy staff and their dependants are being pulled out of Kyiv in response to the mounting Russian threat to Ukraine.
The Foreign Office confirmed the move after the United States ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy to leave the country in response the the risk of an invasion.
Russian forces have massed at the border with Ukraine and intense diplomatic activity has failed to ease tensions.
The Foreign Office said: “Some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kyiv in response to the growing threat from Russia.
“The British Embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work.”
Sources at the Foreign Office told the BBC the move was not the result of any specific intelligence targeting British diplomats, but a response to the growing risk of a Russian incursion and the potential risk to UK officials in the Ukraine.
The UK believes there is a significant risk that the Russian president Vladimir Putin will launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
How Russia could invade Ukraine
But Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko described both the UK’s and US’ withdrawal of staff from the country as “premature” and “excessive”.
He said: “We have taken note of the US Department of State’s decision RE departure of family members of the US embassy in Kyiv staff.
“While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety and security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution.”
When it was later confirmed Britain was following the US’ lead, Mr Nikolenko said his comments on America also applied to the UK.
Tensions in Ukraine have been increasing for months after the Kremlin massed 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, a dramatic build-up the West says is preparation for a war to prevent Ukraine from ever joining the Nato security alliance.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has accused the president of plotting to install a pro-Moscow leader as head of the Ukrainian government.
The Foreign Office took the unusual step of naming the former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate to take over in Kyiv – a claim dismissed as provocative “nonsense” by Moscow.
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, warned on Sunday that there was a “very significant risk” of a Russian invasion of its neighbour.
“The world needs to keep its eye on this and be very clear with President Putin that it would not do this cost-free, that there would be a price,” he told the BBC. “A price in terms of the strenuous defence that we would expect the Ukrainians to put up, but also the economic cost through sanctions, which are of course more effective if the international community speaks as one or at least with a broad consensus.”
On Monday morning, Nato announced it is sending additional ships and fighter jets to existing bases in Eastern Europe, as well as putting extra troops on standby.
The European Union does not plan to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine at the moment, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Monday after Washington announced such a move, pointing out a military attack by Russia could come at any time.
The US State Department announced on Sunday that it was ordering diplomats’ family members to leave Ukraine, in one of the clearest signs yet that American officials are bracing for an aggressive Russian move in the region.
“We are not going to do the same thing because we don’t know any specific reasons. But (US) Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken will inform us,” Mr Borrell told reporters.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied planning to invade, but the Russian military already took a chunk of Ukrainian territory when it seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine eight years ago.
“Negotiations are going on,” Mr Borrell said, adding he saw no reason to leave Ukraine “unless Secretary Blinken gives us an information that justifies a move.”
The EU’s foreign ministers are expected to issue a warning to Russia over its troop build-up at Ukraine’s border.
Pictures from the front line
Ukraine Russia Conflict – Allied Resolve 2022 Original description: Tactical training with the engineers of the Guard of the Red-Snow of Russia’s Armed Forces in Voronezh region, east of Ukraine border, in frozen and sub-freezing temperatures on Friday Jan 21 Credit: Avalon Ukrainian Servicemen of the 30th Army Brigade are seen outside of Svitlodarsk, Ukraine on Jan 23 Credit: Anadolu An Ukrainian serviceman of the 30th Army Brigade on the job with dogs just outside of Svitlodarsk Credit: Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu
So what happens now?
Mounting tensions between Ukraine and Russia has led the Foreign Office to begin withdrawing some staff and dependents from the embassy in Kyiv.
Here we look at the background to the situation and what might happen next:
What is the cause of the tension between Russia and Ukraine?
Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but maintained close economic and cultural links with Russia.
Alarmed by Ukraine’s move towards closer ties with the European Union and a popular uprising which forced out Moscow-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych, Russia annexed the strategically important Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Putin wants Ukraine to remain inside Russia’s sphere of influence, its “near abroad”, and to avoid becoming a Western-style democracy with ties to the European Union and Nato.
What has caused the latest crisis?
Russia has denied any intention to invade Ukraine, but has massed an estimated 100,000 troops along the country’s border.
Troops are also taking part in exercises in Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north.
The UK has also accused Russia of increased cyber activity and widespread disinformation, as well of plotting to install a puppet government in Kyiv, something dismissed as “nonsense” by Moscow.
What has been the response?
Western nations have responded by threatening sanctions against Russia and supplying arms to the Ukrainian forces.
The UK has around 100 troops providing training, although this number fluctuates, as part of Operation Orbital.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the UK would supply “light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems” to the Ukrainian forces, while the US has also sent what it described as “lethal aid” including ammunition.
The Nato alliance is increasing the number of warships and fighter jets in eastern Europe.
Could war be prevented?
US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva on January 21 and although there was no breakthrough the diplomatic path does not yet appear to have been closed off.
But one of Putin’s key demands is for a guarantee that Ukraine will never be admitted to Nato, something that the allies will not promise, saying that such matters are decisions for Kyiv and the Nato members.
US President Joe Biden has warned that any invasion would result in Russia paying a “heavy price”, with severe economic sanctions although he also hinted at divisions in the West about what the response might be to a “minor incursion”.
What is the Foreign Office doing in Kyiv?
An update to travel advice revealed that some British staff and dependents are being withdrawn from the embassy in Ukraine’s capital because of the “growing threat from Russia”.
The US State Department was taking similar action, ordering the departure of family members from its embassy due to the continued threat of military action.