US begins OSCE staff pullout from eastern Ukraine

US begins OSCE staff pullout from eastern Ukraine

World News

U.S. staff at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) started to leave the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, a Reuters journalist said, amid fears of a possible Russian invasion.

Several armoured cars with the OSCE’s logo were loaded with suitcases and seen leaving the mission’s headquarters early on Sunday. The OSCE did not respond to a request for comment.

The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has been deployed in eastern Ukraine since the outbreak of a war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces that Kyiv says has killed more than 14,000 people.

The United States and its allies have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine right away to avoid the threat of a Russian invasion, saying an attack could occur at any time.

Russia, which has built up military forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine, has rubbished the idea it plans to attack and has accused Western nations of spreading lies and hysteria.

Two sources told Reuters that the United States decided to withdraw its staff from Ukraine, while Britain moved its monitors from rebel-held areas to ones under government control.

Members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) load luggage before leaving the Park Inn hotel housing the monitoring mission in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine February 13, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson criticised the U.S. move and said the mission was succumbing to what she described as a “military psychosis” stirred up by Washington.

In a statement, the official, Maria Zakharova, urged the OSCE’s leadership to prevent attempts to “manipulate the mission” and said its monitoring was needed now more than ever.

Russia and OSCE have had disagreements in the past over eastern Ukraine.

Moscow refused to allow another OSCE mission to keep monitoring the border between the rebel-controlled area in east Ukraine and Russia in September. Pro-Russian separatists blocked its monitors in their hotel in Donetsk for a week in October.

Denmark’s OSCE monitors also left Donetsk, one diplomatic source said. Reuters could not immediately establish whether they were leaving the country or only rebel-held territory.

Overall, 21 OSCE monitors left the rebel-held city and more than 30 others also planned to withdraw from nearby government-controlled areas, a diplomatic source said.

Out of 680 OSCE monitors in Ukraine, 515 are based in the eastern part of the country, according to the mission’s official website.

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